Freezing temperatures during yesterday morning's drizzly rush hour produced dozens of fender-bender accidents, a few minor injuries and what John W. Chiles Jr., the Virginia highway department's resident engineer, called "a real headache."
"It started as just a light, misting rain," said Chiles. "But we got a light breeze, and that was just enough--the bridges flash-froze."
By evening, despite continued drizzle and freezing rain that extended travelers' advisories through rush hour, area police said traffic moved slowly but steadily. Westbound traffic on I-66 was tied up about 5 p.m. by a collision between Rte. 50 and Rte. 123, but was cleared 30 minutes later.
Yesterday morning's unexpected freeze produced more frayed tempers than serious injuries. One of the longest backups occurred on I-270 at the Montgomery-Frederick county line, where Maryland State Police closed northbound lanes at 9:15 a.m. for over half an hour to clear a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed across the Beallsville Road (Rte. 109) overpass.
In Fairfax County, rescue vehicles summoned by police slid into police cruisers already at the scene of a 17-car pile-up at Tysons Corner.
Most of the problems occurred on bridges and overpasses, said Chiles. "People would come off the wet pavement, hit the ice and schoooop," Chiles said. "Virtually every bridge" along I-66 was icy, he said.
A Fairfax County police spokesman estimated the department responded to 45 to 50 accidents during morning rush hour, and Maryland State Police at Rockville reported 11, only two of which caused minor injuries. State Police at College Park reported four accidents, U.S. Park Police reported one injury and a few minor collisions on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and District police reported no weather-related accidents.
Most of the traffic accidents appeared to have occurred in McLean and western Fairfax County during the morning. A fire department spokesman said at one point all but six of the county's 36 rescue units were out on calls, most of them to automobile accidents.