Washington tried to return to work yesterday but paralyzing traffic jams blocked the way, delaying or frustrating thousands of commuters.

In one of the worst tie-ups in years, 30-minute trips stretched into two hours and more as motorists battled their way over streets that, four days after the last flakes fell, were still paved with ice and narrowed by mountains of grimy snow.

Officials predicted the ride would be a bit easier today, due to continuing plowing and sanding as well as temperatures that edged into the 50s yesterday, sending ice gushing down storm drains as dirty water.

By this morning, D.C. crews expect to have finished clearing curb-lane ice obstructions that impeded traffic today on I-295/Anacostia Freeway/Kenilworth Avenue, the Southwest Freeway and New York Avenue. Curb lanes of Connecticut Avenue, 16th Street NW and Benning Road will still be closed by snow in places, road officials said.

Carpooling restrictions on Interstate Rte. 66 and express lanes of Shirley Highway, suspended Monday and yesterday, will be restored for today's rush hour, Virginia highway officials said.

Federal workers are expected to come to work today, the Office of Personnel Management announced, but supervisors will be instructed to use discretion in excusing people who arrive late due to traffic conditions.

In a snow-related matter, intermittent service outages that affected 40,000 telephone customers around Dupont Circle and east toward Shaw on Monday have been mostly corrected, the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. said yesterday, though a few telephones were continuing to experience delays in getting dial tones.

Metrorail will continue full service today. But officials expect delays to continue in bus service and advised commuters who normally board on side streets now clogged by snow to use stops on large arteries instead.

Commuters applied ingenuity to keep peace of mind in yesterday's tangle. A rider dashed from a stalled Metrobus into a bakery in Alexandria and bought back five dozen doughnuts, which he distributed to grateful passengers. The bus had left Mount Vernon at 7:45 a.m. and finally rolled up to the 14th Street bridge about 10:30.

A Wheaton man set out for his job in downtown D.C. at 7:30 a.m. and spent an hour inching along two miles of road. He returned home and waited until 11 a.m. to start out again, getting to work in his usual 45 minutes on the second attempt.

Metrorail operated its full schedule for the first time since the system was closed by snow on Friday. It carried unusually large crowds due to the congestion on the roads but reported few delays. Metrobus sent out most of its normal rush-hour fleet, though long delays were common and more than 50 routes, most of them in Northern Virginia were rerouted to avoid impassable streets.

Yesterday's evening rush hour went much more smoothly than the morning tangle, although area transportation officials reported that it started earlier and lasted longer than usual as commuters staggered their departure times. A spokesman for the D.C. Traffic Operations Office described the home-bound surge as "a very nice rush hour, a far cry from this morning."

Snow removal teams continued to work throughout the day. In D.C., which had about 190 plows and other pieces of equipment on the streets at the height of its effort over the weekend, about 70 units were still working yesterday, spreading sand and salt, removing snow from curb lanes and plowing residential streets, D.C. Transportation Director Thomas Downs said.

Montgomery County had pulled back many of the 91 pieces of equipment in use over the weekend. Today, crews plan to concentrate on returning to residential streets where only one lane was plowed. Main roads, county officials say, are in good condition.

Officials said the clean-up had touched almost all roads in the area. "Every single one has been plowed at least once," said Arlington County official Dennis Johnson about that county's network. About 95 percent of the 2,200 miles of state-maintained roads in Fairfax and Arlington counties would have been plowed by last night, with the rest scheduled to be done by noon today, officials said.

Officials attributed much of the clean-up's slow progress on the federal government's decision to call its employes to work Friday. Released early, the federal workers crowded the streets and abandoned large numbers of vehicles in the struggle to get home. "We lost effectively five to six hours of good salting, sanding and plowing," said Alexandria roads official Sam Navatta.

D.C. Director Downs said efforts to plow Constitution Avenue were delayed while tow trucks moved stranded cars. By the time the way was clear for the plows, other passing vehicles had packed the snow into a hard crust, which resisted the plows' blades.

D.C. crews had moved 1,500 cars as of Monday night, Downs said, generally dragging them out of the way and not ticketing them. As of yesterday, he said, cars were being towed and impounded. Montgomery County had moved about 1,400 and Virginia officials reported towing "hundreds" of vehicles.