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Maryland lawmakers question state’s snow cleanup

The State Highway Administration is responsible for snow clearing on numbered roadways in Maryland. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

A dozen members of the Maryland General Assembly have written to State Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn to criticize the speed of the post-blizzard cleanup on state-maintained roads in Montgomery County.

The observations of the lawmakers are similar to those made by travelers throughout the D.C. region, who became increasingly upset with the condition of the lanes on major roadways from midweek onward after the weekend blizzard ended.

Cleanup in D.C. after historic blizzard could stretch for days

So I share the letter with you not to single out the Maryland State Highway Administration for special criticism, but rather because the public complaints were so similar. The complaints suggest that our highway departments everywhere should revisit how they approach the long-range aftermath of a major storm, after they’ve made the roads “passable” but not necessarily ready for commuters.

Dear Secretary Rahn:
The undersigned legislators from Montgomery County (Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, Kensington, Garrett Park, Wheaton, Chevy Chase, and Potomac) would like to convey our disappointment with SHA’s inability to clear major road arteries critical to the economy of our region more than one week after the blizzard. Maximizing the efficiency of snow maintenance should be a top priority for SHA, not only for economic concerns, but also for the safety of our constituents. Fire engines and ambulances could not pass through clogged roads to attend to emergencies for a week. Our constituents were very patient for several days, but have since flooded our offices with complaints. We share their concerns.
The historic snowfall knocked the whole state back on its heels, and it is more than reasonable to allow SHA to catch up with the power of nature. We do truly appreciate the hard work from the dedicated employees of SHA, however, this storm revealed some flaws in the snow removal process that deserves further study.
Major state thoroughfares such as Rockville Pike, River Road, Connecticut Avenue, University Boulevard, Veirs Mill Road and Massachusetts Avenue had one or more impassable lanes in either direction for days after the storm. Discrepancies between the condition of state roads and county roads were evident, and it is not clear why the state roads remained in poor condition for so long. Moreover, the pedestrian crossings piled high with snow banks put citizens in harm’s way, so much so, that numerous individuals complained vehemently that their lives were put in jeopardy, just by trying to cross the street.
The magnitude of weather events has increased dramatically. Before our state experiences another winter storm, we hope SHA will re-examine its snow plowing and snow removal techniques when snow levels reach epic proportions. We hope to resolve these safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians, collectively, and in good faith.

The 12 signers of the letter, dated Monday, are Sens. Susan C. Lee, Richard S. Madaleno Jr. and Brian J. Feldman, and Dels. C. William Frick, Alfred C. Carr Jr., Kathleen M. Dumais, Ariana B. Kelly, Ana Sol Gutierrez, David Fraser-Hidalgo, Marc A. Korman, Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher and Aruna Miller.

At a hearing of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee in Annapolis on Tuesday, Madaleno (D) asked Rahn about the snow removal. “There were lots of state employees who went above and beyond to make sure the roads were safe,” Madaleno said. “And certainly it was impressive to see much of the work done.”

He then added that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had announced at the Board of Public Works meeting on the Wednesday after the storm that 90 percent of the roads were clear. That didn’t match his experience, he said, and they weren’t that clear till Sunday. He asked what the plan was to go back and assess lessons learned.

Rahn replied: “Until I had received that letter this [Tuesday] morning regarding the issue of roadways in Montgomery County that were on the state system that still had one lane closed, I had not been informed of that.”

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Again, travelers in Maryland and throughout the region continued to complain about impassable lanes and other problems on main roads through Monday, as you can see from the comments in my online chat on Monday.

Rahn pledged to assess the complaint, along with the overall storm response by the Maryland Department of Transportation. “We’ll have an after action report that will look at what worked well and what didn’t work well,” he told the Senate committee.