After the blizzard, gridlock Crawling home: Rush-hour drivers fumed in their cars yesterday as semiplowed streets caused them to get stuck in long lines of often single-lane traffic.

Blizzard Of 1996

January 12, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Sandy Banisky, Dan Than Dang, Peter Hermann, Robert Hilson, Robert Guy Matthews and Alisa Samuels and contributing writer Kalee Thompson contributed to this article.

Motorists sat fuming in their cars during the morning and evening rush hours yesterday, their commuting time doubled, tripled or worse as semiplowed streets and highways caused memorable gridlock.

With additional snow predicted overnight, road conditions can only deteriorate.

It was bad enough yesterday as traffic throughout Central Maryland was slowed with many motorists venturing out for the first time since the Blizzard of 1996 hit Sunday. But the worst traffic seemed to be on the streets in Baltimore and the major routes leading in and out of the city.

"I hate it. It's sickening. If I'd known it was this bad, I would have taken another route," said Denise Sims, who was stuck last night about 6 p.m. in a crawling line of angry, honking commuters headed south on St. Paul Street.

"I hope it's snowing so I won't have to go through this tomorrow," she said.

The goodwill and community spirit that was demonstrated in many communities, as neighbor helped neighbor digout of snow drifts, seemed to disappear once people hit the roads.

"Peoples' tempers are flaring," said Charlie Weirauch of Metro Traffic Control, which broadcasts road conditions on Baltimore's radio and television stations.

On Tuesday, for example, after an accident at the Beltway and Interstate 70, "the motorists got out of the car and started duking it out," Mr. Weirauch said.

"The rush hour's been really strange. Basically because people have been cooped up for so long, they just want to get out and go, 'Let's put the foot down on the accelerator and go!' "

The problem was that there was no place to go.

Several accidents led to major backups. A tractor-trailer that jackknifed on the inner loop of the Beltway at Greenspring Avenue about 7 a.m. caused a traffic jam that stretched for four miles.

In Harford County, a southbound car ran off Route 152 shortly before 7 a.m., hit a front-end loader that was clearing snow on the shoulder of the road and then collided with another vehicle as it caromed back onto the roadway.

Also contributing to the traffic tie-ups: Although the major streets had been plowed, there often was only one lane running in either direction.

Traffic on Interstate 395 coming into the city was backed up to Interstate 95. Trucks making deliveries double-parked, blocking already narrow traffic lanes.

Some commuters complained that they didn't think the roads had been adequately plowed. City officials said they are doing the best they can.

Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Public Works, said that the heavy snowfall is very unusual for the Baltimore area and that work crews have been split into two shifts, each working 12-hour stretches.

"But the fatigue is setting in. We knew we were in for the long haul," she said.

Public Works had towed about 250 cars from city streets by yesterday morning -- 89 from the No. 19 bus route alone, said Director George Balog. "We got to get the buses moving," he said.

At least motorists had plenty of time to think of excuses to tell their bosses. That's what Richard Lyons said he was doing as he sat in the parking lot that until yesterday morning had been known as the Jones Falls Expressway, contemplating his arrival at work two hours late.

Among the frazzled and frantic, there were at least a few who took the traffic mess in stride. Dave O'Brien, who was headed last night out of the city home to Arbutus -- very slowly -- was among the philosophical.

"I realize that there's nothing I can do about it," Mr. O'Brien said. "It doesn't pay to get upset, because you'll be howling at the stars."

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