- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Hakim A. Sharif-el was out at 4 a.m. yesterday, spreading de-icing chemicals and plowing snow off D.C. streets.
The 58-year-old veteran driver for the D.C. Department of Transportation was one of thousands of D.C., Maryland and Virginia snow-plow operators clearing roads before the morning rush hour.
"This is not a thankless job," Mr. Sharif-el said. "There are people out there who really appreciate it.
But several commuters weren't ready to offer thanks, complaining that road conditions made their trips to work long and dangerous even with the plowers out and the salt dropped.
"I don't have trouble because I have four-wheel drive, but I was surprised that the roads weren't salted," said Meg Lembesas of Gaithersburg. She said conditions throughout the morning were treacherous and singled out Shady Grove Road as particularly bad.
Theresa Holloman, 48, of Montgomery Village agreed. She said she was terrified during her morning commute because of snow-covered roads in Gaithersburg and drivers who drove too fast.
"Shady Grove Road was the worst, and you talk about somebody scared," said Mrs. Holloman.
Some Virginians complained that roads seemed not to have been plowed at all, even major highways such as Fairfax County Parkway and Leesburg Pike, where driving conditions were a problem in the early morning hours.
"Unfortunately, that was more Mother Nature than VDOT," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation in Northern Virginia.
VDOT trucks were on the road shortly after midnight putting down salt and clearing roads. All major roads and interstate highways had been salted and plowed at least once by 4 a.m., she said. In all, the state had 1,300 trucks on the roads, 60 percent on the major thoroughfares and 40 percent on the secondary streets, Mrs. Morris said.
"VDOT had been able to treat all the roads by 4 a.m., but what you need for the [salt to work] is traffic. There was very little traffic during this time, and the snow just kept piling up."
Mrs. Morris, who spent more than an hour getting to work, when it usually takes less than half that time, called conditions during yesterday morning's rush hour "treacherous."
Lucy Caldwell, public information officer for the Virginia State Police, said there were more than 150 accidents in Northern Virginia as a result of the storm, but no fatalities.
"Most of the accidents were just a bunch of fender benders," she said. "There virtually was not a roadway in Virginia that was not touched by this storm."
David Buck, a spokesman of the Maryland highway administration said that "as soon as you're done, someone else needs your help."
Although the number of D.C. and Maryland car accidents blamed on the snowstorm had not been tallied yesterday, Mr. Buck said there were "dozens and dozens" in the Baltimore area alone.
Cleanup continued last night and well into today, and even if no more snow falls, the D.C. Department of Public Works, Maryland Highway Administration and Virginia Department of Transportation warned that some residential and side roads will be slushy.
"Everybody wants to get back to the way things were," Mr. Buck said. "But take your time during rush hour and assume the roads will be slick."
He said nearly 2,050 state trucks were plowing snow and laying chemicals to melt it, and hundreds will be out today for the final clearing phase.
The plowers' efforts were helped yesterday by would-be travelers heeding the advice of transportation departments and staying home, making it easier for plowers and salt-laying trucks to maneuver, Mr. Buck said.
"[Traffic is] extremely light. Lighter than normal doesn't do it justice. It doesn't even rival a weekend," he said.
In the District, drivers worked to clear the roads before rush hour began using 200 multipurpose trucks, which can plow and spread de-icers. Other smaller trucks scraped the secondary roads. Some 415 employees were dispatched at 11 p.m. Wednesday night to begin clearing the 1,100 miles of D.C. streets, first clearing all streets designated as snow-emergency routes.
Just after midnight Wednesday the city declared a snow emergency, and police said owners of cars parked along snow-emergency routes during the snowfall would be fined $250.
"I'm sorry for that," said Mr. Sharif-el. "That causes a lot of trouble. We have to swerve in and out. And people have a tendency to walk out from behind the car," he said. Most people, he said, understand he has a job to do.
Mary Myer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, said many residential streets had been improved within 12 hours, but that a complete clearing could take up to 24 hours after the storm ends. She said major streets were free of snow early in the afternoon, but ice patches on some of those and on side roads will be around today.

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