D.C. region shows signs of returning to normal after storms

By Jonathan Mummolo and Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The sun was shining; foot traffic had returned to downtown; and many neighborhood streets were exhibiting a sight for sore eyes: bare pavement.

But Washington area residents continued Tuesday to feel the aftermath of the recent record-breaking storms as government agencies struggled to right themselves and resume essential services.

Although many streets were finally plowed, walls of snow and ice still encased cars and blocked off driveways and metered parking spots. Thousands of students began to return to classrooms, but not without besting closed roads, slick sidewalks and long bus rides.

President Obama declared Virginia a disaster area, meaning the state and its municipalities will be eligible to seek federal assistance for cleanup efforts. The District and Maryland are seeking similar designations.

Tough commutes were made tougher when Metro restricted 22 bus routes because of poor road conditions. Even where buses were running normally, some waiting areas remained covered or plowed in, forcing passengers atop mounds of snow, officials said.

Bus stops are "not perfect by any means, but they are accessible," said Karyn LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, who added that the city's efforts should get a boost from the sun. "We're just so happy to see it."

Tim Firestine, Montgomery County's chief administrative officer, said crews continued to attack numerous icy mounds blocking sidewalks and causing other inconveniences. One resident had a seven- to eight-foot pile of snow at his driveway, a remnant of plowing operations that have made their way through county neighborhoods, Firestine said.

"You can leave the streets unopened, or you can move the snow. It doesn't magically disappear," Firestine said.

The District does not plow the public alleys where many trash cans sit, so residents had to leave bags of trash on sidewalk snowdrifts if they wanted them picked up. District recycling collection remained suspended, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works said residents could drop off recyclables at the Fort Totten Transfer Station starting Wednesday.

Still, there were also signs of a return to normality. Officials announced that the federal government would have a regular workday Wednesday -- no delayed opening or unscheduled leave for employees -- for the first time since Feb. 4. A snow emergency route declaration in Fairfax County was rescinded over the weekend, freeing up a number of roadways for parking. Trash collection in Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax counties resumed.

One facet of daily life promised to aggravate residents long after the thaw: parking. For the District's Department of Motor Vehicles, reopening Tuesday after a holiday meant having to face scores of angry residents, many there to contest tickets they had received for parking along a snow emergency route in recent days, some for $250.

At the DMV's adjudication services office -- where a line stretched around the corner and out the door Tuesday morning -- no one seemed immune, not even Charnita Alston, 38, a parking enforcement officer who was ticketed Saturday. "I didn't know it was still in effect," she said of the snow emergency. "You know, the city has just been crazy. It is chaos."

Some residents said the confusion stemmed from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's decision to lift the snow emergency from last week's blizzard Saturday evening but then reinstate the emergency Monday, when the region was threatened with another inch.

Because the latest storm was so minor, many drivers said it didn't even occur to them that a snow emergency was back in place.

Fenty said Tuesday that the snow emergency declaration was essential not only because more snow was expected but also so that crews could truck the snow out of the city in the aftermath of last week's blizzard.

Fenty said his office has handled emergency declarations no differently than past administrations.

One person waiting at the DMV office, taxi driver Murat Alerte, 66, said he was ticketed at 14th Street NW on Friday evening while he was idling in his cab, trying to figure out how to get home.

"The officer is handing me the ticket and says, 'I didn't know somebody was in the car,' " Alerte said. "I said, 'Oh, that's okay, why don't you remove it?' and he said, 'Oh, no, you have to go downtown for that.' "

Kaitlynn Hendricks, 25, a legal assistant who was ticketed for parking overnight along a snow emergency route in December, thought she had 60 days to contest the ticket but learned Monday morning that the fine had doubled -- to $500 -- after 30 days had passed.

Hendricks was driving her father's car, which meant she needed his power of attorney to contest the ticket. "I just paid it," she said. "It's too confusing. It's too much."

On top of everything, Hendricks, on her way back to work at Farragut Square, tripped on the slushy stairs at the DMV. With a smear of slush on her arm and a bloody knee, she shook herself off and trudged on with a smile. "It's just one thing after another after another," she said. "But nothing's hurt but my pride."

Staff writers Michael Laris, Derek Kravitz, Ann E. Marimow and Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.

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