- The Washington Times - Monday, December 21, 2009

Washington-area commuters returned to work Monday morning with few problems, following the weekend storm that brought roughly 16 inches of snow to the region.

Most roads were cleared by Sunday, and the region’s Metro subway system — the second largest in the country — was fully operational, following about 36 hours of delays and some station closings.

Air travelers faced the biggest headaches Monday morning. Though most runways were clear and planes were flying, passengers were delayed by the backlog of canceled flights along the East Coast.

“We’re up and running but still seeing some delays,” said Courtney Mickalonis, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs the Washington Dulles International and Reagan National airports in Northern Virginia.

Ms. Mickalonis said “it could take a few days” before air travel returns to normal.

“This was a major storm that impacted airports up and down the coast,” she said. Reagan’s major runway is open, and three of Dulles’ four runways are clear.

The morning commute around the nation’s capital was made a little easier because federal agencies were closed and many school districts already had begun their winter break.

Local transportation agencies said they expect to keep snow- and ice-removal operations running at least through the morning on roads that are expected to freeze overnight, making driving especially hazardous.

“The snow may have stopped, but Maryland State Highway crews remain in force,” highway administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said, explaining that state crews and contractors were shifting Sunday from plowing roads to removing snow and clearing highway ramps and secondary roads.

She said Prince George’s and Montgomery counties were hit harder by the storm than other parts of the state and their crews remained on standby. The snowstorm set 2-feet-in-one-day records throughout the Northeast.

On Sunday the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that federal offices would be closed Monday for nonessential workers only.

D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Karen LeBlanc said that traffic already would probably be light, with city schools on winter break and many people on vacation for the holiday season. The District of Columbia was expected to lift its state of emergency at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Miss LeBlanc said the District continued to work on snow and ice removal Sunday and was preparing for a refreeze after the sun began melting snow but temperatures dropped back below freezing in the evening. She said main roads were clear, many side roads were being cleared and there would be “relentless plowing” overnight.

“We’ve been hitting it pretty hard all day,” Miss LeBlanc said.

Main roads also were cleared overnight in Northern Virginia, and crews were working on secondary roads, commuter parking lots and subdivisions along Interstate 95.

But despite all the work being done, Ms. Rakowski cautioned, commuters still should leave early to get to work and be extra cautious on ramps and secondary roads Monday.

Virginia State Police said they were investigating four deaths since the storm hit. Traffic deaths Friday in Carroll County and Saturday in Fauquier County have been blamed on the weather. Police said they are investigating two other fatal crashes likely related to the winter storm.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris said 1,700 trucks were working throughout Northern Virginia. She said the area has more than 7,000 miles of road in subdivisions and that it might be as late as Wednesday night before they are all cleared.

“If you can get out of your subdivision, you can get to work. The question is, ‘Can you get out of your subdivision?’” Miss Morris said.

Snow totals varied throughout the region. The National Weather Service reported 19 inches of snow in Alexandria, 21.5 inches in Great Falls and 23 inches in Centreville. Sixteen inches fell on the Mall. Germantown had 22 inches of snow, Bowie had 19 inches, and Bethesda had 23.

In the upper Northwest Washington neighborhood of Glover Park, residents spent the day digging out their cars and shoveling sidewalks. Residents said they had yet to see a snowplow along the small one-way streets that run through the area.

On Observatory Place Northwest, clumps of salt were the only evidence that city crews had even come by.

Jim Matagos, who was out walking his dog, said it wasn’t until afternoon that he had just eaten breakfast because he had spent hours trying to help neighbors dig out their truck. Mr. Matagos didn’t believe anyone should be out driving.

“Even if the plow comes” to his three-block one-way street at Huidekoper Place, Mr. Matagos said it has nowhere to go because “snow will go on top of cars.”

“We’ll be here tomorrow — no work,” he said.

The snowplows cleared the roadway on Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, but the sidewalks were another matter: What hadn’t been shoveled was a soggy mess. For those stores that were open, water pooled on the floors as customers wandered in wearing snow gear and employees were busy with mops to keep up with the puddles.

Tom Smith, who lives with his family on Hall Place Northwest, one block from Wisconsin Avenue, was just starting to shovel the area of sidewalk in front of his house Sunday afternoon. “It’s been great,” he said of the storm, but added that perhaps he had waited too long to shovel because the snow had grown wet and heavy.

“In the middle of the blizzard, we drove down to the Kennedy Center” to attend a matinee of “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, he said. There were only about 100 people in attendance, so it provided an intimate feeling as most people sat closer to the stage, he said.

Across the street from Mr. Smith on Sunday, Rebecca Knorr was cleaning off her mother’s car. She said she had worked on it earlier in the day, but after finally pushing 2 feet of snow off the roof of her Toyota Corolla, she had taken a break because it was just too overwhelming.

“I’m back at it,” she said, “now looking at it and thinking I don’t want to do it.”

Ms. Knorr, who grew up on this street but now lives in Scotland, was visiting her mother. On the way, she said, she got snowed in in Paris. “I live in Scotland, where it’s not snowing,” she said.

Flights resumed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 12:30 p.m. Sunday after the airport closed Saturday. Washington Dulles International Airport opened two of its four runways Sunday but warned of significant flight delays. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport also opened but warned of delays.

Metro ran limited service Sunday on bus and rail routes.

By 3:30 p.m., 24 bus routes were running with limited service, and service was still stopped at all above-ground Metro stations with the exception of one track over the Potomac River connecting the Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations on the Yellow Line.

Metro spokesman Steve Taubenkibel said bus service was available from BWI Airport to the Greenbelt Metro station and arrangements were being made to transport riders from there to the Fort Totten Metro station. He said bus service was also available from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles by way of Rosslyn.

He said Metro was making progress on the aboveground section of track and was running empty trains with de-icing equipment.

“We’re going to make every effort to get everything up by 5 o’clock” Monday morning, Mr. Taubenkibel said. “If we get some sections open tonight, that’s better for us.”

Mr. Taubenkibel said that before service was halted at 1 p.m. Saturday, 17 buses had gotten stuck in the snow and 21 accidents had occurred.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II said the District, Maryland and Virginia had done “exemplary” jobs of cleaning up main streets, but side streets were still affected. However, he said many people seemed to have ignored warnings against nonessential driving.

“If you don’t have to drive, don’t drive. The world is not going to pass you by if you wait until Tuesday to leave your house,” Mr. Townsend said.

Joseph Weber contributed to this story.

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