Washington area officials blasted on snowstorm response

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010; B04

Frustration bubbled up across the Washington region Friday, where the dual snowstorms in the past week continued to wreak havoc on the roads and many residents accused state and local officials of failing to bring normalcy back quickly enough.

In the District, much of the ire has been directed toward Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was criticized for promising to open schools Monday -- a decision he later reversed -- and requiring all city employees to work Monday and Tuesday despite slick streets and limited public transportation. Now, there are complaints that roads remain slush-covered and that mobility is still limited in some neighborhoods.

Asked what grade she would give the D.C. government for its handling of the storm, Karen Williams, president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Ward 7, said: "What's the lowest? I'm serious." Navigating many roads in the city is like "going through a maze with four feet of snow on each side."

Residents and commuters who had to navigate narrow, ice-clogged streets to get to work Friday sounded off angrily on Twitter. "I thought the snow storm was on tuesday. Please explain Why georgia ave look like katrina?" one person wrote. "Mayor Fenty better watch out for his seat cuz this snow is gonna be his downfall," wrote another.

A service road in Cleveland Park has not been cleared since the December storm, said Dean Gold, owner of Dino restaurant. The response has tapped into his long-standing aggravation over city services. "My feeling is that the money follows the developers," he said. "It doesn't come to neighborhoods like ours, much less in the minority communities."

Next week, District and Fairfax County officials plan to hold hearings to examine the response to the storms, especially compared with the one in December. Overall, officials received high marks for their quick attention to the blizzard that blew through the region just before Christmas, but the reviews have not been nearly as glowing this time.

Fenty noted Friday that plow crews have been working 12-hour shifts since the morning of Feb. 5, and city officials have said that no neighborhood has received preferential treatment.

"We have been out in the neighborhoods with front-end loaders, trucks, bulldozers and Bobcats," Fenty said. "Our residential plows have been doing a good job, but this is a historic snowfall in many ways.

"They literally could not have worked any harder," he added.

Meanwhile, Gabe Klein, director of the District Department of Transportation, said crews will continue digging through ice-choked side streets this weekend and step up efforts to remove the snow lining freeways and intersections downtown.

"This is going to be a very, very big operation," Klein said. "We've got 1,600 intersections."

As of midday Friday, more than 95 percent of roads in Northern Virginia were passable, and crews that have been working for days continued to do their best, said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia's secretary of transportation.

Still, problems persist in Fairfax, which has a large number of narrow subdivision streets that Connaughton said are difficult to plow. Residents and elected officials have aimed their frustration at the Virginia Department of Transportation, which has been inundated with angry phone calls this week. As of Friday afternoon, about 15 streets in the southern Fairfax district of Del. David B. Albo (R) had yet to be plowed since Saturday, according to his office.

"Those people are angry and should be very angry," Albo said. "They need to get something from VDOT explaining why this is never going to happen again."

Connaughton, however, said crews have done an exemplary job under the circumstances. "You cannot ask for anything more than what we've been doing," he said.

Similar issues have prevailed in parts of Montgomery County, where many residents have been understanding about the pace of the plowing. But people who live on cul-de-sacs or other dead-end streets are frustrated. Some residents, from North Bethesda to Olney, said their roads have not been plowed since the first big punch.

A map on the county's Web site that was supposed to show plowing progress was "very confusing and difficult to work with and not very consumer friendly," council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said. He hopes to get a briefing from county transportation and other officials on successes and shortcomings "after an appropriate period of time. Not now. People need to get this job done."

Many neighborhood leaders in Prince George's County said the government did the best it could under unprecedented pressure. "If I were to rate it from a scale from one to 10 . . . I'll give them a seven and a half," said Phil Lee, president of the Kettering Civic Federation.

However, Lee, who described himself as a supporter of County Executive Jack B. Johnson's administration, did not give the credit for the response to Johnson (D).

"I'm giving this credit to the truck drivers," he said. "The county executive does not drive any of those trucks. . . . His part has not come yet. Somebody's got to find a way to pay for all this."

Staff writers Tim Craig, Derek Kravitz, Michael Laris, Ann E. Marimow and Jonathan Mummolo contributed to this report.

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