Getting around is getting a bit easier

Roads, rails, airports are slowly recovering as cleanup continues

The Snowstrorm Of 2003

February 18, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl and Laura Barnhardt | Stephen Kiehl and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The state's transportation network - all but shut down for the past two days - is expected to hobble back toward normal today, as officials plan on resuming flights at area airports and returning buses and trains to limited service.

After canceling about 700 flights yesterday, officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport plan to put some planes in the air today. Buses and light rail could be back in service by the afternoon, but the subway will not run at all, officials said.

By midday yesterday, snow plows finally gave way to salt trucks on major highways as the blacktop at last became visible, but officials said they would not be able to reach secondary streets until tonight or tomorrow. They urged those who could stay home today to do so.

"It's not reasonable to expect that Tuesday will be a normal day," said Robert L. Flanagan, the governor's nominee for transportation secretary. "We are still in the throes of a very, very severe challenge. It's going to take us beyond [today] to get back to close to normal."

About 2,100 pieces of snow-removal equipment were on the roads yesterday, with crews working around the clock. They stopped only for sandwiches and catnaps.

By late afternoon, major highways had at least one lane down to the blacktop - a significant improvement over the morning, when stretches of even the Baltimore Beltway were slick and snow-covered.

"We're definitely seeing some progress, and we're very pleased to be able to get ahead of it - finally," said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.

The Maryland Transit Administration kept its buses and trains off the roads and rails again yesterday. MARC trains to Washington are again canceled for today. And officials warned it could be days before buses return to side streets.

At BWI, the terminal was all but deserted yesterday. About 150 people who spent Sunday night in the airport were given pillows and blankets. Officials hoped to get a few flights out by last night, but they said that was far from certain.

Likewise, Reagan National Airport was closed yesterday with plans to reopen at 7 a.m. today. Dulles International had two runways open by noon yesterday and operated about 100 flights out of a typical 1,200.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime storm," Flanagan said. "Hopefully."

The State Highway Administration tab for snow removal for this storm alone stands at $30 million - and that's on top of $35 million the agency had already spent this season.

Baltimore's transportation office put the storm's cost at more than $1 million. Both agencies expect to receive federal assistance.

By the time the snow stopped yesterday, it was clear snow-removal efforts were paying off. Traffic gingerly made its way along the city's main north-south streets, St. Paul and Calvert. The biggest hazards to navigation were pedestrians in the middle of the road, making their way to and from food stores or frolicking in the drifts.

Red lights were ignored as many drivers concerned about getting stuck gave cursory glances left and right at main intersections before continuing.

Airport snow removal

At BWI, the airport's fleet of snow equipment lined up early on the runways, looking like a mechanical chorus line as the machines kicked up plumes of snow.

"This isn't as simple as pushing snow to the side of a street," said the airport's executive director, Paul Wiedefeld.

The lights that line the main runway, which stretches 10,500 feet long and 200 feet across, are a particular challenge. The snow can't be pushed to the side because the outer lights are about 24 inches off the ground, and blowers are used instead. Surface lights in the middle of the runway require sweepers as well.

"You have to be able to see every single light," Wiedefeld said.

Snow on the ramps leading to the terminal is hauled away by front loaders and dump trucks. "It's literally a whole platoon," Wiedefeld said. "Slowly, over the next few days, things will return to normal. We can't say exactly when."

Inside the airport, hundreds of people showed up yesterday to join those who spent the night. They knew planes weren't flying but wanted to arrange to leave today or tomorrow.

Donald Delsignore was determined to get to Florida. The 25-year-old Parkville man has been at the airport since 3 a.m. Sunday. "When I came to the airport, I was trying to beat the storm," he said. "Now, all I want is a shower."

If he doesn't make a flight to Orlando today, he said, he'll go home and settle for sledding instead of surfing.

Trouble with buses

Meanwhile, some transit riders complained that when the MTA shut down bus service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, they had trouble getting home.

"Quite a number of people were stranded by the sudden decision to shut down immediately on Sunday morning," said Leo Burroughs Jr., president of the Transit Riders Action Coalition. He was one of them.

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