What We Had And What We're Getting


February 08, 2010|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Maryland drivers are expected to awake today to a road network that has significantly improved since the weekend's enormous snowfall, but they will still face dangerous conditions.

The biggest challenge for many motorists will be reaching main roads. In many cases secondary roads might not be reached by snowplows for several days - and road crews could face a new round of snowfall Tuesday.

Transportation services from roads to rails to planes slowly began the crawl back to normal Sunday. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport opened its runways about 5 p.m., and a few commercial flights did arrive and depart. Some aboveground mass-transit services were restored, including light rail and some Maryland Transit Administration buses, while officials anticipated running a limited holiday schedule on MARC.

Meanwhile, road crews fanned out around the state, clearing most of the lanes of interstate highways and other major roads.

Southbound Interstate 95 was slow to recover from Saturday's nine-hour backup as crews operating front-end loaders labored to scrape off a layer of thick snowpack that froze to the surface when plows could not reach that stretch the previous day. Traffic moved at a crawl toward Washington for much of the day as progress was repeatedly delayed by vehicles that spun out and became stuck - a scenario that played out on roads across Maryland.

Another problem cropped up on U.S. 301 between Bowie and Upper Marlboro, where power lines fell across all lanes of the main route to Southern Maryland about 11:30 a.m. Utility crews spent much of the day working to remove the downed wires, but state highway officials said traffic was still halted in both directions in late afternoon.

Some of the treacherous conditions that prevailed Sunday are expected to linger today - especially around interchange ramps piled high with plowed snow.

"As people get out on these roads, they need to be patient and they need to be careful," said state Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said many of the drivers who ventured out Sunday were far too eager to return to normal speeds, losing control of their vehicles while driving "too fast for conditions." With the roads in their current shape, he said, driving the speed limit is driving far too fast, noting that limits are set for fair-weather conditions.

Ramps pose a particular danger because most have large quantities of snow piled up alongside them, Pedersen said. Many merge lanes are not open, making it difficult to join the flow of highway-speed traffic.

Some snow piles along state roadways, Pedersen said, are 6 to 8 feet high - too big to be cleared by plows. He said they can't be removed until crews can bring in front-end loaders that are in limited supply.

Sunday's problems were expected to get worse after sunset as temperatures fell into the teens over much of the region. Pedersen warned that early-morning commuters could run into treacherous "black ice" - a hazard that could return tonight after dusk.

Transit service in Maryland is expected to continue making a gradual recovery from the weekend's snowstorm. Light rail reopened Sunday, making stops at a limited number of stations, and officials hope to restore full service today.

More local buses are expected to be on the roads, though service may still be restricted to primary routes. Officials are hoping to restore aboveground service on the Metro subway, which operated on the underground stretch between Johns Hopkins and Mondawmin Mall through the storm, by late today.

Swaim-Staley said she expects MARC commuter trains to operate on a holiday schedule, though some of the parking lots may have limited spaces because of uncleared snow.

BWI was nearly deserted for most of the day - with only a few airport workers on hand. A few passengers were to be found.

Pia Hernandez said she checked her airline's Web site and saw that her flight was "on time" before she set out for BWI on Sunday morning. It wasn't until she arrived at about 9 a.m. that she learned the flight had been canceled.

So the Killeen, Texas, resident applied herself to the unpleasant task of calling her boss to say she almost certainly wouldn't be at work this morning.

One of the passengers hoping Sunday morning to get out before today was Karl Utz of San Francisco, who had been stuck at the airport since Friday - having missed a flight to Chicago because of heavy traffic.

Utz, a Department of Homeland Security employee, said he was able to stretch out and get some sleep on the BWI observation deck and found food at a Subway franchise that remained open.

"I'm not in a hurry, so it's not a problem for me. I'm just bored," he said. With TVs turned off, he's had little to do but walk around the terminals.

"I think I know every inch of this airport," he said.

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