Snow, like politics, turned out to be local yesterday. The performance of road crews in clearing the region's streets and highways--and how their work affected life therein--varied wildly between states, from county to county and even within the same neighborhood.
By and large, motorists gave a mittened thumbs-up to public works crews in Maryland, Virginia and especially the District, which has a spotty track record when it comes to snow-riddance. Main highways were open by the morning rush hour, allowing one Northern Virginia official to boast that roads there looked "shampooed and blow-dried."
"They got the major roads open fast," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the Potomac Chapter of the American Automobile Association. "They won the war on the major thoroughfares in Washington in 24 hours, and that's an amazing feat. I can remember in the past a foot of snow paralyzing the city for several days."
Yesterday allowed the region to take a giant step toward near-normalcy today. Travelers resumed interrupted journeys at busy airports, bus terminals and rail stations. And after its second consecutive shutdown, the federal government was scheduled to reopen today, as were public schools in all major jurisdictions except Anne Arundel, Calvert and Charles counties. Several systems, however, planned to start two hours late. [List of closings across region, Page B4.]
Metro said that its trains would be operating normally by morning and that most buses would be on schedule as well, though some routes on side streets or hilly neighborhoods might be detoured.
The National Weather Service, still recovering from its failure to promptly forecast a storm that dropped up to 19 inches of snow on parts of the region, said another one appeared to be brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and could arrive in Washington on Sunday. But sunny skies and temperatures hovering around 30 were expected for the next few days.
Even though street clearing in the region got generally high marks, all roads were not equal. Sunshine and plows cleaned Connecticut Avenue NW down to dry pavement yesterday, while other major routes such as 14th Street were ice-packed, spinning cars like Tonka toys.
Side streets such as Kalorama Road NW went untouched while Chesterfield Place NW, a short dead-end road where, perhaps coincidentally, D.C. control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin lives, was plowed neat and clean.
"We did a good job . . . but there are a lot of lessons to be learned," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), noting that the city had to skip some residential streets because none of its 240 trucks was equipped with small enough plows. The good news: All city streets should cleared by tomorrow, the mayor's staff said, with snow emergency conditions still in effect until at least 9:30 this morning.
"We've made enormous progress," Williams said.
Not according to Daniel Oloye, whose Gold Star Cab got stuck three times yesterday on streets as slick as Crisco. "They don't do nothing here," Oloye said as he used his clipboard to furiously dig his cab out of ankle-deep snow on Belmont Street NW.
Once he got traction, Oloye climbed inside his cab and shut the door. "I'm going home," he said.
The intersection of California and Connecticut illustrated the erratic street conditions. After a 10-wheel Sysco truck made a delivery, its cab got stuck on snowy California Street, leaving its body blocking two lanes of bone-dry Connecticut. It took driver Luis Kulhahay 90 minutes to shovel his way free.
In Virginia, Arlington residents were tickled that plows had made it onto tiny cul-de-sacs, while some Alexandrians fumed that they'd been abandoned.
"It just seems like throughout Old Town there's been no effort," said Linda Couture.
Alexandria dispatched 25 plows and trucks to handle 500 miles of local streets round-the-clock, said top snow commander Brett Sweeney. By this morning, he predicted, every city street would have been plowed at least twice and sanded at least once.
Reviews were better elsewhere in Northern Virginia, where crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation attacked side streets long before dawn yesterday, spokeswoman Joan Morris said.
"The interstates and all the main roads looked shampooed and blow-dried," she said. "Since midnight, they've been in full force in the subdivisions."
Morris said work crews on 900 plows and other trucks aimed to make every neighborhood street "passable" by rush hour this morning. By early afternoon yesterday, most of the subdivisions in Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties had been cleared, she said. Motorist Jim Tomashoff, 48, of Chantilly, said he was "amazingly pleased. . . . Compared to the big storm we had in 1983, it's night and day."
Mark Kendrick, 40, stopped shoveling his driveway in Fairfax City to offer compliments. "The day after 12 inches and the roads are totally clear," he said. "I'm impressed."
In Montgomery County, officials and motorists said the road conditions were similar to those in Northern Virginia with Interstate 270, the Capital Beltway and other highways clear by daybreak yesterday and many side streets plowed as well. By midday, John Thompson, the county's chief of highway services, reported that commuter routes and neighborhood streets were "basically snow-free." Any remaining side streets were to be plowed at least once by 10 last night, he said.
Elsewhere in Maryland, where the storm hit hardest, the challenge was more daunting, and side streets remained a major problem throughout Southern Maryland.
Although even top-priority highways like the Prince George's section of the Beltway were giving state crews a fight yesterday morning, State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck reported by midafternoon that all main thoroughfares were in "fantastic shape."
The Prince George's County public works department had received about 1,000 calls requesting plowing by midday, according to Dale Hamel, chief of operations. "We're concentrating our efforts into the subdivisions, and we'll go around-the-clock," he said. "My guess is that it's another day's work before everything is passable."
Some residents in Springdale learned that the hard way. "We haven't seen a snowplow yet," said Alexis Nunley, a Navy engineer. It took a neighbor with a snowplow and the collective effort of the neighborhood to open Butterfly Lane.
In Anne Arundel, where about 100 county plows were doing battle with up to 19 inches of snow, county spokesman Andy Carpenter reported that major highways were clear but "you . . . can go into a subdivision and be in snow up to your hubcaps."
Likewise, many Howard County side streets, particularly to the west, remained clogged yesterday.
Some didn't mind snow on their streets.
"It's great for skiing," said Bruce Romano, a federal lawyer, as he disappeared down 30th Street NW on cross-country skis.
Contributing to this report were staff writers Michael H. Cottman, Stephen C. Fehr, Hamil R. Harris, Raymond McCaffrey, Raja Mishra, Ann O'Hanlon, Angela Paik, Philip P. Pan, Paul Schwartzman, Michael D. Shear, Nancy Trejos, Steve Vogel, Emily Wax and Scott Wilson.
CAPTION: In Silver Spring, a car tries to navigate Bradford Road. Montgomery County hoped to have its last streets plowed by 10 last night.
CAPTION: Roger Walther, 11, of Ashburn, is pulled through the snow by his Samoyed sled dogs.