Washington area jurisdictions continued yesterday to plow out from under the heaviest snowfall in four years, opening most of the major streets and highways to traffic but warning that clearing most residential streets could take another full day.
"We're telling people to hang tight for a while," said Virginia state highway engineer Michael Hancock, echoing the sentiments of most area transportation officials. "It's a very slow operation."
In Maryland, where 228 pieces of state-owned equipment were at work in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, state highway officials reported that the Capitol Beltway, I-270, Rte. 50, I-95, and all the major surface streets were passable by mid-afternoon.
In Virginia, with 150 pieces of equipment on the roads, the Beltway, Shirley Highway, I-66, Rte. 50, Rte. 95, and all other major roads and highways had at least one lane cleared in each direction, state highway officials said. Some of those highways were the scenes of Friday's biggest tie-ups, when federal workers descended on snow-clogged roads and bridges at midday and many ended up abandoning their cars.
Most major streets in the District were plowed by early yesterday morning, and the city planned to keep its 175 snowplows operating through the night until most side streets were cleared.
Throughout the day, state and local officials in charge of the massive clean-up complained that their biggest obstacle to snow removal was not the snow, but the hundreds of abandoned cars blocking intersections, clogging freeway access ramps, and forcing bulky snowplows into a game of Dodge 'Em.
"It's a major obstacle course out there," said Steve Hull, a Maryland highway department dispatcher.
"There are abandoned cars all over the place," said Hancock, the Virginia state highway engineer. "And as soon as we get a street clear, the cars run out and get stuck." Hancock knew the problem first hand yesterday--an entrance to the highway department yard on Van Dorn Street in Alexandria was completely blocked by a line of abandoned vehicles.
In the District, David A. Devine, a transportation operations official, shared the frustation. "People who abandoned their cars Friday still haven't come back for them," he said. "That's our main problem." Tow trucks in the city were busy pulling abandoned cars off to the sides of the roads, while in the suburbs the abandoned cars were being towed to the nearest available lots.
Besides battling abandoned cars, snowplow crews were forced to battle fatigue, since most drivers had been awake since Thursday night salting the streets before the first flakes began.
"I don't know what the hell is keeping them awake now," said Charles Vaughn, a supervisor at the Maryland State Transportation Department's Upper Marlboro garage. "Most of them are in pretty good shape. They've been moving since Thursday."
Some residents living on side streets became impatient with the slow pace of the plowing, and decided to dig out their own blocks. On Ross St. NW, a tiny dead end street of just six houses, shovel-wielding residents dug their own path to freedom, digging their way to Macomb Street and pushing the snow into an open manhole.
Maj. Tom Bowen at the Fairfax County emergency command center agreed "the side streets remained virtually impassable. The problem we're running into is the large number of abandoned vehicles blocking the roads." He said 150 abandoned cars in the county had been towed between 6:00 a.m. and noon.
In Arlington, the problem in reaching the side streets was more difficult. "Some of our smaller size trucks can't get into the side streets so we have to wait for the heavy equipment," said Dennis Johnson, operations division chief for the Department of Public Works. Arlington had 43 trucks at work plowing.
Area officials were anticipating Friday's fierce storm and began salting the roads on Thursday. The object yesterday was to move the snow, they said, conceding that by not salting again immediately they risk severe icing should the temperatures drop below freezing.