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Busy rush hour as people head to work and shop

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16.4 inches of snow fell on Washington, D.C., over two days, making it the sixth-highest snow total on record. The 15 inches that fell Saturday made it the third-highest snowfall day ever.

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By Ashley Halsey III and Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009; 9:02 AM

Washington's roads and highways were clogged during the early morning rush hour Tuesday, with a combination of ordinary commuters and holiday shoppers eager to make up for time lost during a snowbound weekend.

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Save for the mounds of plowed snow lining most major thoroughfares, the traffic reports sounded routine: backups on Interstate 66 in Fairfax County from the Capital Beltway to Route 50, clogged lanes on the Beltway in Maryland, a couple lanes closed in key places on I-270 in Montgomery County.

Metrobus restored service on some routes that had been deemed impossible to navigate on Monday because of the weekend snowfall; several routes were still being compromised because of road conditions, however, and officials said some delays were expected.

For area schoolchildren, the feeling of an early holiday persisted, with major school systems still closed and some giving up plans for any classes before winter break. But for grownups, the majesty of a major snowstorm had begun to wear thin by late Monday, as emergency rooms in the Washington area filled with broken bones, holiday travelers sought to resurrect ruined plans and exhausted road crews continued to reclaim asphalt yard by yard.

The federal government, which was closed Monday, reopened Tuesday but granted liberal leave. Homeowners who marveled Saturday at the magnitude of the snowfall, up to two feet in some areas, had turned ornery by Monday, convinced that their street was destined to be the very last plowed.

"Arlington has the worst snow-removal plan I've seen," said Kendall Church, who lives near the Ballston Metro station. "I've yet to see any snowplows come through any of the streets in my neighborhood, but Arlington will not take removal requests like D.C. will, nor do they have a handy map that shows what streets have been cleared already."

Many people used Monday to catch up on shopping for the holidays, a godsend to merchants staggered by the weekend's losses. Snowplows had to fight through snarled traffic to attack mountains of snow surrounding roads near malls, and police were summoned to help control traffic as dark fell and gridlock set in at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax.

Diane Supley, a manager at J. Jill, a women's clothing store, lives four miles from the mall, but she said it took her 90 minutes to get to work, where she discovered throngs of shoppers.

"It's wall-to-wall people," she said. "I went to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and the line was twice as long as usual."

A few retailers, such as Macy's at Tysons Corner, stayed open all night Monday and into Tuesday, part of a round-the-clock blitz for last-minute buyers that will last through Christmas Eve.

Digging out

The District was leading in the street-clearing effort, reporting that most of the major work had been done and that crews would tackle missed streets and revisit some that had been plowed early in the storm. Montgomery County plows were tackling neighborhoods in the most densely populated areas. It might be Wednesday before the first path is opened into some Northern Virginia neighborhoods, and Prince George's County was bedeviled by ice.

"You can't plow ice," said Jim Keary, a Prince George's spokesman. "What they're having to do is treat the streets before plowing them."


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