Frustration mounts as thousands of streets wait for a plow

Thousands of D.C. area residents are still trapped by a wall of snow 48 hours after the storm ended as transportation agencies struggle to dig them out.

WASHINGTON — Thousands of streets throughout the D.C. region remained impassable more than 48 hours after the snow ended and patience was running thin for residents who have been trapped at home for days.

Snowbound neighborhoods, buried lanes on major commuter roads and rolling closures for snow removal kept federal offices closed again Tuesday and prompted school officials to cancel classes again not just Tuesday but Wednesday as well.

In Alexandria and Arlington, some 40 percent of city streets had yet to be touched. D.C. had plowed, at least once, most city streets and planned to spend the day “cleaning” residential streets — not just plowing snow but hauling it away to be melted with special equipment sent in from Indiana.

Montgomery County’s 311 line was overwhelmed by the volume of calls and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s call center crashed under the barrage of calls from residents all wanting to know: When will I see a plow?

From Virginia to Maryland to D.C., local officials said they were working hard to clear neighborhood streets amid mounting frustration. Residents took to Twitter, Facebook and email to vent and plea for help.

“We dug out our fire hydrants, driveways and sidewalks upholding our part of the law/bargain with the City (sic), but the City has done nothing for us,” wrote Dana Linnet, a resident of East Taylor Run Parkway in Alexandria, in an email to WTOP.

Prince George’s County resident Eve Fuerth called the county’s snow removal “primitive and unacceptable.”

In Vienna, residents teamed together to clear themselves a path.

Officials across the region said they heard residents’ and understood their frustration but said they were doing they best they could, blaming the delays on the wall of snow that had to be chipped away with heavy construction equipment.

In Virginia, which took the brunt of the historic storm, the hands of local officials are largely tied, said Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova.

The state is responsible for clearing the roads — although her office can advocate for her residents and help direct VDOT to areas of the 400-square-mile county that haven’t yet been touched, she said.

“If we were a nice, neat, little tiny town or a tiny city, it would not be as challenging as it is.”

Virginia

If Northern Virginia was hit hard, fast-developing Loudoun County was literally buried under snow. (Ashburn clocked in with 33 inches of snow Sunday morning.) And VDOT held a news conference there with new County Board Chair Phyllis Randall Tuesday.

Contractor’s plows are falling off as they try to move the wall of frozen precipitation that has built up over subdivision streets. The state will bring in heavier equipment to clear and remove the snow, Randall said.

In Leesburg, contractors that were expected to help clear roads never showed up. Residents who need diapers or medications were urged to call the town for help.

“Our goal is to have a path for everyone to their subdivision by 6 a.m. (Wednesday) morning,” said VDOT spokeswoman Jennie McCord.

About 450 pieces of heavy machinery will switch from clearing state highways to subdivision streets over the next 24 hours, McCord said.

Although primary roads aren’t perfect yet, state officials want to provide a path to residents’ houses.

“Then we’ll go back and work on some other things like the sight distance issues, and the turn lanes,” she said.

But McCord warned that Wednesday could be a nasty drive to work as some major commuter routes still have fewer lanes than normal. Merge areas at on-ramps and offramps are often covered in snow.

As of lunchtime, at least 40 percent of Arlington County’s residential streets were still not passable. Crews were pulled out of the neighborhoods overnight to focus on refreezing arterial roads, said Jessica Baxter, acting communications manager for the Department of Environmental Services.

She said county crews are supplemented by contractors and they are making slow but steady progress. Main roads have been cleared in county.

Alexandria reported that as much as 40 percent of residential streets were impassable Tuesday morning. That number should shrink when the city updates its progress in the evening.

The goal is to make all streets passable for emergency vehicles by late Tuesday, said city spokesman Craig Fifer.

District

D.C. officials plans to get as close as possible to pavement. Roads will be cleared, snow mounds will be hauled away and the massive amount of snow will then be melted, said Chris Geldart, the director of the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

He aims to have all city streets and sidewalks at least passable in time for District children to return to school Wednesday morning. He and Mayor Muriel Bowser asked residents and business owners to shovel their walks, hydrants and to clear paths for bus stops.

Bowser said more equipment was coming to the city, including a second snow melter, Tuesday. She told residents that city crews are working “methodically” and “deliberately to get to you.”

“We’ll get to every part of the city that needs more attention just as soon as possible,” she said. “We’re still recovering from a blizzard.”

Maryland

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett pledged that all neighborhood streets would have at least a path cleared by sunrise Wednesday.

“What that means and our objective is to make sure that every person in the neighborhood, every house, will have a route out of that community,” Leggett said.

As much as 30 inches of snow fell in parts of the county. North Potomac saw a whopping 38.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Leggett said crews would keep working until all roads are clear.

Forty percent of Prince George’s County residential streets remained impassable as of Tuesday evening including a section of Temple Hills where residents were spotted digging out their own street by the county’s top official.

County Executive Rushern Baker noticed the neighbors at work during an aerial inspection of the community’s roads. He halted the flight, landing at a nearby school, and told the residents that “help is on the way,” he said.

Despite the slow progress, road conditions have improved dramatically in the last 24 hours, Baker said, and the county aims to make all of neighborhood streets passable by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Narrow roads and parked cars lining both sides of some streets prevented large snow plows from hitting those roads, he said to explain the delays seen by some areas of the county.

He said residents will at least be able to get to work and home again but the snow won’t be completely gone until dump trucks can haul it away.

This week, a high volume of users crashed the county’s storm tracker site. Residents who were redirected to 311 overwhelmed the nonemergency line for assistance, officials said.

Baker said once the snow has been removed, the county would review the technology glitches.

Frederick County officials are warning residents to expect delays and cancellations all week. Most primary and secondary roads are passable but some might have just one lane available to traffic, said County Executive Jan Gardner.

The county has just a few dozen workers to clear 2,600 lane miles of roads, Gardner said.

He asked residents to stay off the streets and to not shovel snow into the road.

To report unplowed streets:

Frederick County, Maryland: 301-600-1564

City of Frederick: Submit a report online here: bit.ly/1OWhgx1

Prince George’s County: 311 or submit online 

Montgomery County: mc311.com or call 311

Arlington County: Submit a report online or call 703-228-6485

Fairfax County: Report snow issues to Chair Sharon Bulova’s office at 703-324-2321 or chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein, Dick Uliano, Max Smith, Kate Ryan and Colleen Kelleher contributed to this report.

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