Police urge drivers to stay off roads as snow continues to fall

December 19, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

TRI-STATE -- As snow continued to fall throughout Washington County Saturday afternoon, crews were working hard to keep interstates and main roads passable for emergency vehicles, but police urged drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.

As of about 1:30 p.m., the interstates in Washington County were passable, but ramps were causing problems for some vehicles, especially tractor-trailers, said Paul Frushour, Resident Maintenance Engineer for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

"We are getting some tractor-trailers hung up on our ramps, but so far we've been able to plow around them and get those out," he said.

Secondary state routes were covered in snow, despite having been plowed many times, Frushour said. Wind gusts were combining with the continued accumulation to cover over roads that have been plowed, he said.


Emergency dispatchers in Washington County said several dozen minor crashes had occurred by Saturday afternoon, but they did not have reports of any that required transport to hospitals.

One particularly bad spot was Brosius Hill on U.S. 522 as you head from Hancock into West Virginia, a Morgan County, W.Va. emergency dispatcher said Saturday morning. Several tractor-trailers got stuck on the hill Saturday morning, the dispatcher said.

In Hagerstown, city roads crews were focusing on keeping the main roads passable, Public Works Manager Eric Deike said. Those include Franklin, Washington and Potomac streets, Eastern, Wilson, Wesel and Garland Groh boulevards, Pennsylvania Avenue, and others, he said.

"A lot of the secondaries, we haven't touched," Deike said. That includes most residential developments, he said.

Washington County Highway Department Director Edwin Plank said that until the snow stops falling, county crews will also be focusing on keeping main roads passable.

Even on roads that are drivable, conditions are very icy, Plank said.

"The best advice for people is please stay home and wait for it to stop, and please give us time to clean up, because it's going to take a while, and be patient," he said.

The State Highway Administration stressed that vehicles should not try to pass snow plows or plow trains, which are multiple snow plows in tandem moving snow from left to right.

"The untreated highway is ahead of the snow plow and the plowed, treated highway is behind, so 'Don't Crowd the Plow,'" the SHA wrote in a news release.

Roads officials said most people seemed to be using common sense and staying off the roads.

The state, county and city had equipment and workers out at full force to try to keep up with the snowfall, officials said.

The State Highway Administration had a total of 60 trucks working on state roads in Washington County, Frushour said. The state crews working Saturday afternoon had been working since 9 p.m. Friday, with some rest periods, he said.

In the county, a first shift of workers worked from midnight to noon and a second was working from noon until midnight before the first shift came back on, Plank said.

"And we have contractors who've been in since about 6 this morning trying to help in subdivisions," Plank said. "We've just been pushing forward, just trying to plow."

The City of Hagerstown had about 20 people working in about 17 trucks, Deike said.

County and city crews have been focusing on plowing and have not been using salt or other chemicals except on hills and problem spots, officials said. Salt is not effective at this point in the snowfall because it gets plowed off as quickly as it is put down, Plank said.

Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania reported no major road closures or snow-related accidents Saturday.

More than 30 PennDOT plow and salt trucks hit the roads at 11 p.m. Friday to clear the rapidly falling snow, said Kris Feldmeyer, assistant county manager for PennDOT.

"This is pretty much what we thought we'd be up against," he said. "It got here a bit earlier than we planned but we are prepared to keep the roads clear through Monday."

PennDOT trucks have been working the routes nonstop since late Friday night, he said.  

Pennsylvania State Police said at noon Saturday that roads were kept mostly clear preventing accidents.

The only closure reported by PennDOT was Timmons Mountain in Spring Run, Pa.  Feldmeyer said the mountain is often closed to traffic during major winter storms.

Rapid snowfall Saturday had by 11 a.m. deposited 5 inches of snow on Chambersburg and by 1 p.m. deposited 11 inches on Waynesboro, according to local weather watchers Todd Toth and Jerry Ashway.

Despite the quickly accumulating snow, state road crews managed to clear roads for those needing to travel in the storm, Feldmeyer said.

"People shouldn't be out in this weather, but for those who are, we have got a good grip on things," he said. "We have some good veterans (plow drivers) out there who know how to work a storm. Technology and materials can only do so much we need experienced drivers and we have them out now."

The Borough of Waynesboro declared a state of snow emergency Saturday.

Dennis Benshoff, superintendent of the maintenance department said when more than four inches of snow accumulates, the warning goes into effect.

The warning prohibits drivers from parking on Main Street and on snow emergency routes, which must remain open, he said.

Kate S. Alexander contributed to this story

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