Snow gridlock traps commuters for up to 13 hours

Drivers moved slowly on I-66 at Lynn Street in Rosslyn last night, even at 11 p.m.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 9:02 AM


On the George Washington Parkway. On 16th Street NW. Interstate 66, too.

Buses, cars, people - just plain stuck as snow, sleet and ice covered roadways and knocked down trees across the region, turning the evening commute into a seemingly endless nightmare.

About 6:15 p.m., Steve Roberts, 42, began to merge his Dodge Ram pickup onto the George Washington Parkway en route to Sterling. Two hours later, he was still waiting to merge.

"I hear there's an accident up by the parkway and 495, and that's blocking everything up," said Roberts, who began his commute at the Pentagon. "I've got a long way before I get home."

Denise Borders spent nearly 13 grueling hours on the Parkway - "just sitting for hours. Literally. Sitting, not moving" - without food, without a bathroom, without sleep. There were trees down and people whose cars got stuck trying to turn around and get off the parkway, Borders said. But for most of the drivers on the road, the snow was less of a problem than the complete gridlock that enveloped them.

"You saw people get out and have to relieve themselves out in the street. It was horrible," Borders said after finally arriving at her home in Reston, close to 5:30 a.m.

On the parkway, as hour after hour passed, Borders commiserated with other drivers - parents anxiously trying to get home to their children, nursing mothers desperate to feed their infants. With their cellphone batteries slowly losing juice, the trapped drivers dialed 911 and other emergency numbers, looking for information about where to go, when the traffic would clear. No one had answers.

"I thought I was leaving early. It had just started to snow," said Borders, an educator with a global consulting firm, who left her Dupont Circle office about 4 p.m. "We still don't know what the real start of it was, but it took 13 hours to get here."

By 1:30 a.m., gridlock had turned into traffic anarchy on Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Just past Sligo, before Four Corners, frustrated bumper-to-bumper northbound drivers decided to take over the southbound lane as they attempted to climb the hill.

Except cars were still coming southbound, and snow removal trucks, too. On both sides, vehicles were stuck, including an 18-wheeler flatbed truck. Drivers - some of whom had left their offices at least seven hours earlier - were backing up, spinning their wheels, slipping and sliding.

The whole scene looked like an amusement park, like somebody had designed a real-life game of bumper cars.

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