For those living in the Washington, D.C-area, last night’s commute home was a nightmare, as commuters in the District and the Northern Virginia area were stuck for hours on the roads. Last night’s forecast only called for one inch of snow, but it wasn’t the snow that caused the chaos - it was the icy conditions that arose due to the apparent lack of preparation from any municipal authority. It was something that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser apologized for earlier today:
Yet, it still doesn’t negate the fact that this is weak sauce. The area has been hit with bitterly cold days prior to last night’s dusting, which meant that even an inch of snow was going to stick to the asphalt and create havoc. Virtually no roads were pretreated with salt. The District’s Department of Transportation reportedly began treating the roads at 4 p.m. yesterday with beet juice:
Deployment for pretreating started at 4 pm per @DCDPW director.— DDOT DC (@DDOTDC) January 21, 2016
When it comes to deicing chemicals, the District has taken new steps to deice roads in both a more effective and environmentally friendly way. DDOT and the D.C. Department of Public Works have developed an organic deicing brine that mixes salt, water and beet juice, to replace the traditional application of straight rock salt.
The beet juice in the brine allows the mixture to adhere more effectively to the roads, and instead of being plowed away like salt or even traditional brine, the new brine will stick to the pavement for several days and continue melting snow and ice. This mixture “helps prevent ice and snow from bonding with the roadway and is less taxing on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and budget than rock salt,” according to DDOT.
Also, the biggest snowstorm in a century is heading towards the nation’s capital, so this lackluster response is even more worrisome. How embarrassing is this ordeal? According to Waze, a navigation app, there were more than 1,000 fender benders reported. After hours of sitting in traffic without moving, many commuters simply abandoned their cars (via WaPo):
The detritus of the long commuting ordeal — scores of cars abandoned on and around the shoulders of highways — could complicate the drive to work for those unfortunate enough to have to make it.
It was Washington’s familiar post-apocalypse look, minus the apocalypse, a bewildering sight to those accustomed to more frigid climes.
And the scene proved once again (though no proof was needed) that Washington, when taken by surprise, is woefully unprepared, not just for a blizzard but for any “snow event.” It also showed how little it takes for the region to descend into a long night of traffic chaos: more than 1,000 reported fender-benders (unofficial numbers via Waze), six- and seven-hour trips home, jammed arteries and impassably frozen exit ramps.
Given what the Virginia State Police reported, that 1,000-car figure doesn’t seem to be too far off.
The only silver lining is that this light dusting hopefully shook some sense into the city. We’re bracing for a blizzard that some say will be “one for the record books.” A state of emergency will be declared tomorrow morning, and no parking tickets will be issued throughout the course of the emergency. For everyone in the eye of the storm, stay safe, warm, and be alert.
I will declare a snow emergency effective tomorrow morning at 9:30 am. Residents will need to move their cars from snow routes before then.— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) January 21, 2016
WOO HOO!!!! DC @MayorBowser said no one is getting parking tickets during snow emergency on Saturday. But still, obey the law.— Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) January 21, 2016