'This snow has really put us back' Follow-up punch by weather has crews

Blizzard Of 1996

January 10, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF FTC Sun staff writers Larry Carson, James M. Coram, Dan Morse, Amy L. Miller, Sherrie Ruhl and Tanya Jones contributed to this article.

If you're lucky and it's stopped snowing by the time you read this newspaper, you might see a snowplow or a front-end loader on your street today. Then again, the weather may have scuttled the best-laid plans to clear your block.

Road crews in the Baltimore area yesterday watched in frustration as a new blanket of snow obscured the pavement they were laboring to free. They had been making good progress on Central Maryland's main roads, except for in western Carroll and northern Harford counties, where conditions remained hazardous.

But many side roads still hadn't seen a plow -- and the new snow made it unclear just when relief would arrive.

"I don't know when all the county streets will be cleared," said Baltimore County's highways chief, C. Richard Moore, as evening neared. "This snow has really put us back. We're four hours behind where we thought we'd be by now."

In Howard County, workers had cleared main roads before the snow began to fall yesterday, but met their Waterloo in Columbia's cul-de-sacs, partly because residents had parked in the turnabouts.

Harford County officials, forced to rent front-end loaders from private contractors to deal with drifts 10 feet and higher, reported they could end up spending nearly nine times their snow-removal budget.

Here is a summary of conditions in the city and surrounding counties:

Baltimore City: Back to the main roads

City Public Works Director George G. Balog yesterday hoped, despite the new snow, to keep tackling city side streets and get three-quarters of the way down a list of 1,500 complaints by this morning.

By yesterday afternoon, crews had dumped nearly 4,000 tons of salt on the streets, and the Public Works Department had spent more than $873,000 on its effort.

Workers were targeting side streets in Fells Point, Highlandtown, Lauraville, Guilford, Hampden, Sandtown, Brooklyn, Forest Park and Howard Park. The areas were chosen for geographic balance, Mr. Balog said. He said crews also were answering complaints throughout the city.

But late in the afternoon, he pulled the city's 180 pieces of equipment back to clear main roads of new snow and said he couldn't predict just when all the side streets would be finished.

On some streets too small for snowplows, workers could only pack the snow down with heavy equipment. They also were using front-end loaders to cart drifts away to available parks, landfills and the vacant site of the former Lafayette Courts housing project in East Baltimore.

Diane Wiegand of Mount Washington said she watched a plow go several times over Taney Road, a cross street that intersects her block of Stuart Avenue. When she asked the crew why they couldn't do her street instead, she was told there were no orders yet to do side streets in her area.

Mr. Balog said the repetitive passes were the only way to clear the larger roads. In some cases, the snow is too high to plow all at once, and the plows get stuck.

"That's the technique we're using," he said. "You can't make it with one pass. I make them put the plows up and skim it."

In the city, the phone number for lodging complaints about plowing is 396-SNOW.

Baltimore County: Drivers may go sleepless

Mr. Moore, the county highways chief, had expected to have all 2,000 miles of streets in urban areas "open and passable" by sundown yesterday.

But he changed his mind in midafternoon, because of the new snowfall. County plows were back to salting the main roads. Plans to send drivers home for some sleep also were in jeopardy: "It's sort of hard to send anyone home when it keeps snowing."

And with strong winds forecast for last night, Mr. Moore and County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III worried that the 500 miles of county-maintained roadways in northern, rural areas might again become snow-covered.

Snow removal costs hit $12,500 an hour Sunday because the county was paying overtime, said the county administrative officer, Merreen E. Kelly. Yesterday and Monday, the rate was $10,000 an hour.

The storm's total cost to the county will be about $1 million, Mr. Moore said. The county had spent $1 million on storm emergencies before Sunday and had another $500,000 in the fund.

Public Works Director Charles R. "Bob" Olsen hoped to bring weary snowplow drivers off the roads last night for some long-delayed, uninterrupted sleep.

"They're too tired," he said. "They'll hurt themselves or somebody else."

The plan was to send the drivers home for sleep at dusk, and bring them back at 4 a.m. The drivers have been working with minimal sleep since 9 p.m. Saturday, he said, and need a rest.

Dozens of residents called County Council members to ask when their streets would be plowed. But there weren't many complaints.

"I was amazed they did Velvet Valley Way," said Herbert Fried, who lives off Park Heights Avenue, north of the Beltway.

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