SHA: 'Domino effect' delayed the plows
A combination of fast-falling snow, unexpected accumulation rush hour traffic, multiple collisions, vehicles that couldn't get up hill, jack-knifed tractor-trailers and fallen trees and power lines impeded snow plows Wednesday night and turned an evening's commute into a nightmare for drivers across the region, according to the State Highway Administration.
Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman, said every piece of equipment the state owns or has under contract was deployed -- though many motorists were left wondering whether the agency had taken the night off. In many cases, he said, plow crews were pulled from their usual routes to deal with emergencies. In many cases, he said, downed trees had to be removed before plows could get through -- and it was the snow plow operators who had to take out chain saws to do the work.
The snowfall of 10-14 inches was roughly double the forecasts issued earlier Wednesday -- and it came down with a vengeance. In a midnight interview, Buck said the heavy snow was falling at a rate of 2 inches an hours and that the plows just could not keep up.
"It was like a domino effect," he said.
All over central Maryland lanes or entire roadways were blocked by disabled vehicles. All lanes of the Inner Loop were closed near Reisterstown Road for hours Wednesday night because of one such blockage involving an estimated 10 vehicles.
"Anywhere there was a hill, anywhere there was any grade," vehicles were becoming stuck, Buck said. That was what happened on the Jones falls Expressway in Baltimore, he said, noting that the highway runs uphill all the way from downtown to Ruxton.
North of Ruxton around Hereford, Interstate 83 was the scene of one of several crashes around the state involving jack-knifed tractor-trailers. A few hours earlier, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced the state was pre-positioning heavy tow trucks around the state in preparation for such incidents. By midnight, Buck said, the trucks had been given a heavy workout.
At least two of the truck crashes occurred on Interstate 70 near Mt. Airy, Buck said. About 9:30 p.m., highway officials decided to close I-70 in the Frederick area in both directions to allow the snow plows to clear the highway.
Buck said that with the multiple obstructions on the highways, salt trucks could not reach many locations. Earlier, SHA officials said they could not pre-treat roads because the heavy rains that preceded the snow would have washed away the chemicals.
At midnight, with all but a few of the traffic backups alleviated and the snowfall tapering off, SHA salt trucks were beginning to get through, Buck said. He said that by later this morning, the public will see considerable progress in the clearing the roads.