SHA and Howard's public-works agency are ready for whatever winter sends our way


December 04, 2005|By JODY K. VILSCHICK

Ready for the snow? Each year's first snowfall always takes me by surprise, and this year's flurries the night before Thanksgiving were no different.

With almost 17,000 highway miles to care for in Maryland, getting ready for winter is no small job for the State Highway Administration. The good news is that SHA officials are ready for winter. The bad news: The snow flurries we received were a warning of the winter ahead.

"The dedicated men and women of the State Highway Administration are ready for whatever comes our way," said SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen. "SHA strives to clear state roadways as quickly as possible and asks that motorists do their part by driving with extreme caution during inclement weather."

Pedersen also recommended that those who must drive during inclement weather should plan their routes using SHA's Web site (www.maryland and click on the chart icon for up-to-the-minute traveler information, real-time traffic cameras and any roadway alerts. Motorists can call 800-327-3125 for general highway conditions in Maryland during storms.

Howard County's Department of Public Works is ready for winter, too. With 970 miles of road to take care of, the county has stocked 12,000 tons of salt to be dispersed by a fleet of 100 vehicles. And during a storm, you can track progress in the county at The maps are updated every 15 minutes during a storm.

So what happens when snow is in the forecast?

SHA and Howard County administrators have to take into consideration such factors as the amount of snow; the duration and intensity of the storm; temperature, humidity and wind; and the availability of material, manpower and equipment.

Usually, de-icing materials such as salt brine (liquid sodium chloride or liquefied salt) or magnesium chloride are spread first to prevent the bonding of snow or ice to road surfaces. Then, depending on the intensity of the storm, plowing operations follow.

Do snowplow operators a favor: Don't park in cul-de-sacs because parked vehicles can make snow removal nearly impossible for highway crews. Park vehicles in driveways and off the streets.

And courtesy of SHA, keep the following tips in mind when driving during winter weather:

Slow down. Safe winter driving means driving slower than you might on dry pavement.

If your vehicle skids, do not slam on the brakes. Take your foot off the gas and turn in the direction of the skid.

Increase your following distance. This will give you a few extra seconds to react to changing conditions.

Never pass a snowplow, salt truck or plow train - you're better off behind them.

Turn on your headlights - Maryland law requires use of headlights while windshield wipers are in use.

If you get stuck, don't panic. Find a safe place and clear a path in front of and behind your vehicle. Spread cat litter, sand or another abrasive on the path you clear.

Try to avoid abandoning your vehicle. Move your vehicle as far off the road as possible.

Dial 77 on your cellular phone to report crashes or disabled vehicles.


Karen Gilbert wondered about people who frequently solicit donations along medians. On Oct. 25, she spotted people soliciting church donations at Route 175 and Dobbin Road. The same group was there a week later, she noted.

"Is this legal?" she asked.

Accuse me of not having a heart, but I plead with you to keep your windows closed and not drop any donations into the buckets of well-meaning but misguided solicitors. Why? Solicitors at intersections are a traffic hazard because they go car to car, often walking between cars, even on a major roads - and even when the light turns green and cars start moving.

But to answer the question, it is legal in Howard County if the solicitor gets a permit from the Office of Consumer Affairs 21 days in advance of the soliciting date. The other rule is that those seeking donations are supposed to stay on the median and not enter the roadway.

Do they obey? Of course not. It always seems that getting the permit is the step solicitors overlook.

The Police Department is the enforcing agency, so when you see dangerous behavior among solicitors such as walking between lanes of vehicles at traffic lights, call the non-emergency dispatch center at 410-313-2200, so that an officer can respond to the situation. If enough people resist giving, and enough people call the police, charities are more likely to stay off the roads and find less dangerous ways to collect donations.

What is your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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