Roads are better, but ‘we are not ready for rush hour yet’

May 26, 2024 | The roads are getting better, but we're not there yet (Bob Marbourg, WTOP traffic reporter)

WASHINGTON — The snow from last weekend’s blizzard continues to melt, but that doesn’t mean the roads are back to normal just yet — and WTOP’s traffic experts say the roads aren’t ready for rush-hour volume.

On Tuesday, WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said while the roads have gotten better, traffic will move in a diminished capacity. Mounds of snow still block lanes and cover sidewalks.

“There is virtually no road or highway where all travel lanes are available,” Marbourg said. “You cannot have a real rush hour when you have lanes that don’t exist.”

Jim Battagliese, WTOP’s director of traffic operations, has been driving around the area. Along with his traffic crew, he’s been looking at the traffic cams on major roads and says roads weren’t equipped for a Tuesday morning rush hour either.

“We are not ready for rush hour yet,” he said.

Battagliese says that road workers on the interstates, county roads and residential streets are giving it their all — “and I know they’re exhausted with the hours they’re putting in” — but adds, “we’re just not there yet.”

Some of the roads are down to bare pavement, Battagliese says, but that’s giving drivers “a false sense of security.”

People are driving “at highway speeds on the highway, and all of a sudden, they lose the lane they’re in because of a mountain of snow, and they just roll right over.”

For example, he says, on 270 just before the split, “where usually you have six lanes, three of the lanes are under a couple of feet of snow. And you can’t get to the spur … And if you’re doing 60 miles an hour, it comes up on you pretty quickly.”

If you have to walk in the street, Marbourg has a simple request: “Take the earbuds out of your ears, walk facing the traffic, so you can see and dive into a snow bank if needed.”

Still, while workers have done a great job of clearing the roads, Marbourg put responsibility on local agencies to make sure all the streets are clear.

“They can’t not do it,” Marbourg said Tuesday. “It’s a matter of negligence if you leave snow on the streets. They have to clean until all lanes are visible.”

Battagliese doesn’t see the roads getting clear enough for a regular workday until Thursday at the earliest.

“If you can let your workers work from home, I would say do that until at least Thursday or Friday, until the crews can get the job done.”

THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE made several announcements on Tuesday:

  • Rock Creek Parkway is open in both directions and running two-way traffic. Ohio Drive, by Lincoln Memorial, is still closed for snow removal.
  • Suitland Parkway was slated to have intermittent closures Tuesday afternoon for snow removal;
  • Drivers should avoid the Clara Barton Parkway if at all possible, as there’s still plenty of ice on the roadway. They add that it expects to close the parkway between Glen Echo and Chain Bridge Road, Carderock and MacArthur Blvd, and the Glen Echo turnaround (MacArthur Blvd and Glen Echo turnaround) as the crews work to widen lanes and remove excess snow.
  • There will be closures on the southbound George Washington Parkway between Route 123 and the Spout Run Parkway between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 4 a.m. Wednesday.

MARYLAND STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION spokesman Bob Rager told WTOP on Tuesday that people who have been cooped up for days still need “a lot of patience” as his department works to bring the numbered routes up to normal.

“[Tuesday] is probably the day of most concern out of the last four, because a lot of people are venturing out,” Rager said, while a lot of heavy equipment is still plowing and salting in ramps and merge areas.

“You’ve got to expect that we’re going to be still out there through today and tomorrow at least,” he advises drivers.

During the storm, Rager said, the priority was to clear the way for emergency vehicles.

“Now that we’re down to bare pavement in a lot of areas, I think the expectation is that you can get out there and get right up to speed.”

But there are still slick patches and visibility problems from snow piles.

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli says that’s the case in Montgomery County, where the problem isn’t the snow on the roads. It’s the lack of space; snow piled on the sides of roads squeezes into lanes.

THE SITUATION IN VIRGINIA was similar: WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reports that, while U.S. 50 in Loudoun County has been cleared, and the main routes in Fairfax County have been plowed, lanes may suddenly disappear, even on busy roads such as Stringfellow Lane; neighborhood roads may only have one lane, and many intersections have high piles of snow that you can’t see around.

“It’s a good thing [Tuesday] isn’t a normal rush hour, because Route 29 isn’t ready for one.”

Stretches of U.S. 29 that are normally two lanes, he said, were down to one slushy lane.

Jennifer McCord, spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said that VDOT’s road crews are focused on subdivisions, where about 60 percent of the roads have been plowed.

“We still have a lot of work to do … Please give a little more time,” she acknowledged.

The second phase — moving from pushing snow off the road and toward picking it up and moving it away — requires heavy equipment. Hence the front-end loaders on U.S. 50 and Interstate 66 in Fairfax County. They move a bit slower, and while McCord said that traffic is slowly growing on the highways, “if you don’t have to be out on those roads, give them room.”

McCord also acknowledged problems with the phone line on which residents can report unplowed roads. She says that you can email problems to novainfo@vdot.virginia.gov or use the online form.

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