- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Regional transportation officials say commuters frustrated yesterday by merge zones hidden by piles of snow and passengers faced with crowded subway stations can expect to see similar problems today.
"Let's hope it gets a little bit better, but really, folks should expect more of the same," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Sandra Dobson, spokeswoman for Maryland's State Highway Administration, said, "We have never said that it would be normal travel. Backups have to be expected. Our goal is to have all travel lanes open by Friday morning."
Around the region, all types of transportation were limited, schools remained closed for a third day, residential streets were snow-clogged and barely passable, several buildings collapsed or sagged under the weight of snow, and deaths attributed to the storm reached 11.
Many residential roads, plowed once or not at all, were limited to one lane. Public officials proclaimed victory over the storm, but getting around was frustrating for some residents.
Penny Riordan, 22, of Beltsville said the parking lot in her apartment complex on Powder Mill Road was one step up from a nightmare.
"There are mountains of snow everywhere. People are just piling snow wherever there's a free spot," she said.
Rising temperatures and rain forecast for this weekend have officials making emergency plans for expected flooding.
The Presidents Day weekend storm tied for the fifth-worst in Washington's history, with 16.1 inches measured at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the official reading for the city. However, 28.2 inches fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and nearly 50 inches fell on parts of Western Maryland and West Virginia.
Federal employees returned to work yesterday under a liberal-leave policy, and traffic on the Beltway and major highways was gridlocked. The morning rush hour lasted until almost noon in some areas and produced a 13-mile backup on Interstate 270 that originated at the American Legion Bridge.
Maryland highway officials sent front-end loaders and dump trucks to clear lanes partially blocked by berms of plowed snow and reducing available lanes to one or two. Several accidents, including jackknifed tractor-trailers on southbound I-270 near Rockville and on Interstate 495 at College Park made traffic conditions even worse. Other accidents were caused by speeding cars running out of lane and hitting snow berms, Ms. Dobson said.
She said drivers were not allowing others to merge when lanes disappeared. "We're not seeing as much courtesy as we would like," Ms. Dobson said.
VDOT chose not to haul away snow in dump trucks.
"We just keep trying to push it back and back," said Ms. Morris. All travel lanes were cleared and crews were concentrating on clearing shoulders and ramps.
Traffic around Tysons Galleria in McLean was further complicated when a department store received a threatening phone call and was evacuated for 2 hours.
In the District, road crews raced to fulfill Mayor Anthony A. Williams' promise that all roads would have at least one passable lane by midnight. Front-end loaders and dump trucks were used in the city to remove snow from intersections and other large snow berms created by plowing.
Crews still had a lot of work to do overnight to make all lanes available on main commuter routes like New York Avenue, the 14th Street Bridge and the Key Bridge.
Mr. Williams said trash pickup has been impossible all week but will resume today.
Costs for the storm cleanup will overload transportation budgets. In Maryland, the highway administration was around $10 million over its $21 million budget, and cleanup for the most recent storm will cost from $20 million to $30 million, said Ms. Dobson.
The administration will apply for a budget amendment in the state legislature.
VDOT was $2 million over its $48 million before this storm, and Ms. Morris said the statewide cost will be around $30 million. VDOT will have to reallocate funds within its $878 million maintenance budget.
The District was $500,000 over its $3.2 million budget for snow removal before the Feb. 7 snowstorm, said Mary Myers, Department of Public Works spokeswoman. The city did not have an estimate for how much the cleanup would cost, but Ms. Myers said it would be "in the millions."
Other forms of transportation began to return to normal yesterday. Metro trains ran every 12 to 15 minutes, instead of the usual three to six minutes. Closer to the city during rush hour, crowds were so heavy that some riders had to wait for several trains to arrive before they were able to board. Some gave up and found other means of getting to work.
Only about 60 percent of Metro's 680 cars were used because the others were snowbound, and in the suburbs parking lots were at about 50 percent to 60 percent capacity, said Lem Proctor, Metro's chief operating officer, who added that service would not return to normal until early next week.
Washington Dulles International Airport and Reagan Airport operated on full schedules. BWI was operating on a normal schedule with some delays after being closed for two days.
"We're trying to book three days of travel in one day. It's really tough," said Melanie Miller, a BWI spokeswoman.
Dawn Shuford, 35, who was waiting for her flight to leave, had been trying to get home to Seattle since Sunday.
"It's surreal. I just can't believe it's happening. I'm usually at home reading about this happening to somebody else," she said.
Virginia Railway Express operated on a limited schedule and officials said they would return to normal today. Amtrak began running trains to points north and south yesterday for the first time in several days.
Schools in the region decided early yesterday to close today, and Prince George's County, along with several counties in Northern Virginia, announced that they would be closed tomorrow as well. Some universities, such as George Mason University and the University of Maryland, will be open today.
Seven persons are believed to have died from carbon-monoxide poisoning while sitting in idling cars with tailpipes blocked by snow. Four of the seven were 12 or younger. Four men died while shoveling snow. Three of them were in their 60s and one was 42. A total of 55 deaths were associated with the storm in the 13 states where it hit.
There were numerous reports of sagging and collapsed roofs all over the region. A five-story downtown Baltimore building was evacuated after the main support snapped under the weight of snow, and engineers worked to prevent further structural problems. In Frederick County, at least eight cows were killed when the roofs of two barns collapsed.
Mr. Williams urged D.C. residents to clear storm drains and catch basins to prevent flooding, and to remove snow and ice from flat-roofed buildings to prevent collapse. Public safety officials also advised homeowners to brush the snow and ice from gas meters, outside air intake pipes for natural gas furnaces, and from drainage gutters.
The National Weather Service said 1 to 2 inches of rain could fall tomorrow and Saturday, and city officials said a heavy concentration of rain could produce significant flooding, particularly in low-lying areas.
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson said all 1,700 miles of the county's roads would be passable by today, but it would take some time to completely clear them.
A poll on WUSA-TV-9's Web site asked area residents how they ranked snow removal in their neighborhoods, and 78.4 percent of respondents said they thought it was "poor," 12.9 percent said it was "adequate" and 8.8 percent said it was "very good."
Matt Cella and Tim Lemke contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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