More than 60 hours after the snow stopped falling in the nation’s capital, there were still side streets impassable Tuesday afternoon within a mile of the White House, and some thoroughfares often just had one usable lane in either direction.
But in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, there were miles of winding neighborhood streets with clear pavement from curb to curb – and a few dozen unfazed Bostonians to thank.
While D.C. did not have the equipment, training or personnel to make quick work of clearing the more than 20 inches of snow that fell across most of the city during last week’s blizzard, it did have the foresight to call a crew from an area near Boston before the first flakes fell.
At daybreak Sunday, as officials in D.C. had only begun to assess the damage, a convoy of 50 contractors and 35 backhoes, front loaders and Bobcats were on their way from North Billerica, Mass. They made it to D.C. nine hours later and haven’t stopped plowing since.
Residents in Anacostia and along a spiderweb of streets from where they started east of the Anacostia River, have been the beneficiaries.
“They sent us to Ward 9, I mean Ward 8, and once we got a map, we could figure out the trouble spots and take care of them,” said Bill French, president of W.L. French Excavating Corp.
French, who worked in Boston last year clearing some of the city’s 109 inches of winter snow, tried to be gracious to his D.C. hosts. “There’s quite a bit of snow here,” he said sympathetically. But compared to Boston last year? “No, nothing,” he said.
“Maybe a six” out of 10, said Lance Barretto, one of his employees, who was more direct. “Got your ankles wet.”
At midday Tuesday, French’s crew made quick work of clearing a half-mile stretch of 30th Street in Southeast Washington — as well as every side street in between for a block in either direction.
Most had not been plowed since before the storm began, and with the snow gone, the neighborhood quickly sprang back to life, with cars and delivery trucks filling the roadway.
While there has at times been no discernible plan to the way plows have cleared streets in other parts of D.C., French’s crew made it look routine.
Backhoes worked in tandem, pushing snow to the end of a block. There, front-loaders lifted the piles into 18-wheel dump trucks. Bobcats completed the cleanup, clearing drains to prevent future flooding, and then it was off to the next street.
During the operation, D.C. police cruisers blocked access to the neighborhood at French’s request so his crew did not have to slow down to dodge traffic. And at the end, a salt spreader put down a final coat to break up remaining patches of ice.
The efficiency demonstrated by French’s crew raised questions about training for the District’s usual fleet of 150 plow operators and whether it was getting the most out of those resources.
But the Boston crew’s quick arrival showed that D.C. had made attempts before the storm to augment its force before competition for such resources can become fierce and costly.
In addition to the Boston crew, a convoy from Albany arrived in D.C. on Monday, and an ice-melter requested from Indiana before the storm had been deployed to a parking lot at RFK stadium where the city was amassing snow. On Monday night, when Pepco released many contractors it had been holding in reserve in anticipation of power outages, D.C. also tried to gobble up those companies.
In all, about 450 trucks and other pieces of equipment were active Tuesday in the city, triple the District’s full force.
But that still paled in comparison to New York, where officials Tuesday said that nearly 900 pieces of equipment were deployed in Queens alone, including 200 front-end loaders, and that almost 100 percent of streets had been plowed since the end of the storm.
New York also has contractors on retainer to clear city bus stops and pedestrian overpasses, and said four in five of each of those had been plowed by Tuesday, while many in D.C. remained buried.