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BREAKING NEWS — Motorists Still Stranded on GW Parkway, I-66

by ARLnow.com | January 26, 2011 at 10:41 pm | 2,875 views | 72 Comments

(Updated at 11:00 p.m.) The snow has stopped falling, but hundreds of motorists are still stranded on area roads and highways.

Drivers have been stuck on the George Washington Parkway for 5-6 hours now, according to various reports from Twitter.

The fact that there are no traffic cameras along the parkway has made it difficult to see exactly what’s going on, but Twitter users are reporting that downed trees are blocking all northbound and southbound lanes.

“My mother’s been there for 6 hours,” said one user.

“Talking to friend still stuck on parkway since 4:30 PM just past CIA exit going south,” said another.

“I have a friend who has been there since 5pm. She says cops are walking up and down, people are huddling together in cars,” said yet another.

Westbound I-66, meanwhile, has been at a virtual standstill since about 7:00 p.m.

Icy conditions and numerous accidents have made the two-lane highway impassable for much of the night.

“It’s been incredibly difficult getting equipment to trouble spots due to the heavy congestion but I believe it is being cleared and traffic is slowly moving now,” said VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris.

Currently, there’s a large backup before the Rosslyn tunnel. Traffic is moving along single file past 21st Street, with a stalled car blocking the left-hand lane.

Earlier, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the reason why it was taking so long to get traffic moving was because the traffic itself was preventing crews from treating the roadway.

“There are vehicles that are stuck, and you have to get the vehicles out of the way before you can get the snow plows through to clear the road,” Geller said. “The shoulders aren’t wide enough, there’s not enough space to get the VDOT trucks through to treat roadways. So you have to clear the road, then get the trucks through to treat it. Then, as soon as you get it treated, more cars come through, someone loses control and it starts all over again.”

Geller said Virginia State Police responded to calls for 106 disabled vehicles and 56 crashes in Northern Virginia between 5:00 and 10:00 p.m.

At one point, Geller said, a state trooper was struck and knocked over by an out-of-control car on I-66 near Glebe Road. The trooper was not hurt and remained on the job, she said.

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  • Bender

    SAY NO! to widening I-66!

    That will only encourage more people to use it, which will cause traffic jams. Leave it narrow and encourage people to use public transit instead, like buses. Yeah, buses. You know, the ones that they stopped running.

  • Snowed In

    First and foremost, let me point out the most important piece of information in this article… the trooper who was struck. Thank God to hear that this officer is not injured. As for everyone else, better you than me. That’s what you get for living in the suburbs and always driving your car ALONE to your desk job downtown. Quit bitching about the width of I-66.

    • Rick

      I think the shtick went right over your head.

      I am glad the trooper is well also.

    • Bender

      Yeah, that’s what you get for living in the suburbs! You should be living in the Urban Village. Then you could have taken the bus.

      And been stuck on it for hours on end.

    • The Noze Bros

      +1

    • MrCar

      Times like these are great times to bond with your car. I was already home when the snow started but I went out and sat in it so we could watch the snow fall together. It was nice.

  • Westover

    A friend who LIVES in Arlington is trapped on I-66, let’s widen it already!

    Glad the Trooper is OK!

  • Katie

    Also happy that the trooper is OK.

    I feel fortunate now that it “only” took me 6 hours to travel from downtown DC to South Arlington.

  • Jennie

    my mother has been stuck on GW Parkway since 4:30pm. Even better, her home in Rockville has no power. Snow sucks.

  • Steve

    If 66 were one or two lanes wider, it would be one or two more lanes of stopped traffic. Just look at the traffic reports for all the other much wider roads out in Fairfax county(Toll Road and 66). Also, look at 50. It’s 3 lanes each direction in arlington and just as congested as everywhere else right now. It’s also only 2 lanes in fairfax from 7 corners west. Why doesn’t Fairfax widen that road instead and quit bitching about 66?

  • Bender

    If 66 were one or two lanes wider, they could have temporarily closed one lane, plowed it, then reopened it while closing another, plowing that, and you would not have had this stand-still parking lot.

    Look, this really isn’t that hard, at least not to those of us from snow places like Michigan who know what the hell they are doing, and not maroons like Chris Metro Board Zimmerman.

    • AllenB

      That’s right, because that worked on the other wider roads in the region – 50, 495, 270, 395…. oh, wait, those are at a standstill too. Next genius idea.

    • Runaway Train

      just to clarify. Chris Zimmerman is no longer the Metro Board moron, another moron has taken his place.
      I had a friend that spent 5 hours traveling from Chantilly to Arlington. It is time to stack 66, not widen it.

      • Bender

        Yes, but he helped set up the current moronicity of Metro.

      • Arlingtonian

        Wrong! It is time for someone to invent that instant transport tube thing George Jetson uses to get to work.

        • Arlingtonian2

          We should give Columbia Pike back to the State and ditch the trolley after last night…

    • JD32

      I’m from a ‘snow state’ (Wisconsin), and your idea is dangerous, impractical, and never has nor will never be implemented. Stop pretending like you know what you’re talking about.

    • Turd Ferguson

      Dunno about widening the roads, but people need to learn how to @*#&ing drive out here. This isn’t Florida, people….it snows here every @&#^ing year. Learn to drive or stay home!

  • Sb

    Been stuck on gw northbound since 430 for 10 hrs. No sign that our police are helping!
    They were just ticketing people who turned around on the median. This is hopeless as many people just abandoned their cars. Nee HELP!

    • http://ShuttleLOUNGE.com Dik Shuttle

      They’re TICKETING People?!! Say goodbye to that commander. That is obscene & possible actionable. Any Lawyers stuck in this now? My Sister has been in there for over 10hrs and basically hasn’t moved.

      I can see 495 & 270 moving on the MoCo channel. GW, what’s the story?

      Instead of ticketing, tie a chain to your squad car and pull an f’n log outta tha way.

      • jan

        Ticketing instead of helping? Given the freak nature of this storm, he should be fired and his supervisors should be held to account.

    • Snowed In

      I have a stupendous Idea! Lets bulldoze all the trees, make GW Pkwy 4 lanes each way, then make it a double deck!

  • Alma

    Yeah, widen that road so we can have even more mega-ton one-person SUVs smoking up the air that all those of us who WALK and take PUBLIC TRANSPORT everywhere must breathe. And while you’re widening 66, make sure you destroy the pedestrian and bike paths that run along side it and remove the remaining sidewalks, so those of us who choose to walk will be truly confined to the indoors. Isn’t that what you want, anyway? So you don’t have to be reminded that we exist and that you’re ruining the environment for us?

    • Bender

      Yes, Alma, that’s what we really want. In fact, what we REALLY want is to have hoses attached to the exhaust pipes of those vehicles so that those noxious fumes can be pumped directly into people’s homes.

      Of course, we could also simply continue with the totally dysfunctional status quo, where traffic is jammed all over the place, so that vehicles can waste gas and spew fumes, and buses stop running just when you need them most.

  • Debbie

    My husband has been stranded on the GW parkway Northbound since 4 pm yesterday! This is irresponsible of VDOT or the National Park Service or whoever. How can you leave drivers stuck with no exits or shoulders in site, no gas stations, no bathrooms, no food, no water, no nothing? He has been there for almost 14 hours now. He would have taken metro had he known it would be so bad but he had no idea…this has never happened before in all 22 years of his working in DC. The lack of traffic cameras doesn’t help. At this point, my husband would have been home if he had walked or taken public transportation. But they’ve left him stranded with no way out. It is dangerous and unacceptable.

    • Snowed In

      I’m sorry to hear your husband didn’t get home. Yes he should have taken Metro. In fact, he should take Metro every day, that’s a wonderful idea. Since we’re on the subject of wonderful ideas, we need more gas stations, starbucks, traffic cameras, Wawas, Taco Bells, HH Greggs, and maybe even a Pepboys on GW Parkway.

      • Westover

        There were Metro Buses that were stuck/stranded in the mess too.

    • got stuck

      Please voice your concerns to the park service. The more concerns they hear, the more they will think about changing their practices for the next storm. http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/index.htm

  • Foster

    My wife was among the hundreds of motorists left stranded on the northbound GW Parkway from 5pm until 3am. Why was traffic completely stopped from the McLean exit all the way back to the bridges? No one seemed to know. I walked to the Parkway at 2:30am from a nearby road and found my wife exhausted in in her car. There were no authorities present – just one salt truck and several citizens helping to clear the way (which they eventually succeeded in doing). Someone’s head should roll.

    • Fingerpointing

      I’m sorry your wife was stuck for so long, but how were the authorities supposed to get there? Abandon their vehicles and walk?

      It was good to see that several citizens were helping to clear the way. I wonder how many people just stayed in their cars instead of trying to help?

      • ArlBlueSky

        In “The Day After Tomorrow” Dennis Quaid walked from Philadelphia to New York in multiple feet of snow.

        • Kate

          That’s Dennis Quaid though.

          • Rick

            Randy Quaid would have done it too, but probably for a giant can of busch

      • Runaway Train

        The authorities need to have a plan B if they can’t get through with vehicles. Blaming the people stuck sitting in their cars? Come on Fingerpointing, come up with something better.

        • FingerPointing

          How about accountability for their own actions? Snow had been forecast for at least 24 hours. Government closed early, this wasn’t a surprise. Where was your wife’s plan B?

    • Craig

      I was there, too — stuck in the southbound lanes. I saw only 2 emergency vehicles in seven hours. It’s not like they don’t know that for many people, this is the only transportation option. Why don’t they have an emergency plow at the ready? And with all those trees, they must know that falling trees is almost a given. Total incompetence, IMO.

  • 4Arl

    Please think before blaming the DOT agencies. They cannot plow through stopped cars, and especially abandoned ones. If commuters are on the roads during heavy snowfall the plows will get stuck in traffic and won’t be clearing much snow.

  • WorstCommuteEver

    I left the office at 5:15 and never made it home (Rockville). Never even made it to the Chain Bridge Road exit. Around the 4am mark, some nice young gentlemen pushed my snow-challenged, rear wheel drive vehicle through the GW median, back towards work. I’m back at my desk in the same clothes I wore yesterday.

  • Place Blame

    How about people begin taking responsibility for their own actions? Blaming VDOT or any other transit agency for external circumstances (i.e. people abandoning their cars, etc). How about taking 2 hours of personal time off or whatever and heading home early? Most employers are reasonable. I think the back-and-forth forecasting of this storm was a major issue. DC/MD/VA residents seemed to be caught offguard.

    • Craig

      How about placing blame because it’s their JOB to secure the roadways? Why wasn’t there a snowplow and sander out there when the snow started? I had been stuck for 3 hours and they STILL hadn’t closed the Chain Bridge ramp to enter the parkway, thus allowing more cars on and worsening the problem. People might have abandonded their cars because there was no police presence and had no idea how long they might be stuck. If they can’t handle a foot of snow god forbid a worse emergency happens.

      • Snowed In

        please Craig, you’re a moron. You got on the Parkway, there were other options. You’re to blame. Would you like a personal snowplow to escort you home next time?

        • Westover

          I half way have to agree with Craig, it is reasonable to expect the roadway to be kept in a some what cleared condition. But it was not just snow in the road, but downed trees blocking the road, that caused the GWPW problem last night.

  • Lou

    I’m flabbergasted that anyone thought getting on the GW Parkway last night was a good idea. I was watching cars on Wisconsin Ave last night around 5:30 that could not get traction on the tiniest of little inclines going 2mph. A roller coaster road through the woods like the Parkway was guaranteed to be the worst CF of all.

    Everybody loves to talk about how DC drives can not handle snow, and yet people insist on going out and driving in the snow with those people. You’re just asking for it.

    I left my car in the garage at work, walked from Glover Park to Rosslyn, and thanks to the improvising bus supervisor at Ballston caught a bus to Westover. Little less than 2 hours overall, but believe it or not it can take up to an hour on a normal day to drive home.

  • Jim

    Debate over widening I-66 in this context is understandable, especially if one or one’s loved ones were caught in it. However, we need to keep in mind an inexorable rule of highway construction — the volume of traffic will expand to fill the available lanes. That only gets us right back where we started.

    • Burger

      Of course the collarally to that argument is that a widened 66 would result in less traffic on Lee highway, washington blvd and route 50 – you know many of the local roads Arlingtonians drive on to get places within Arlington. But, hey, who wants to get somewhere quickly when they can be obstinate.

      • AllenB

        Riight… because the traffic around 270 is so much less than it used to be before it was widened…. not. More lanes, more cars fill them. End of story.

    • Stuck too

      It doesn’t matter how wide the road is in that kind of weather. I was on every imaginable width of road in my 5 1/2 hour commute from Tysons to Columbia Pike. Route 50 is 6 lanes across but no one was getting past the bus that was horizontal across 3 lanes by the Outback shopping center. In all my efforts last night, the only time I ever really moved was when I was weaving through the neighborhoods from McLean and North Arlington and staying away from toll road, 66, 7, 50, etc.

  • ClarendonKing

    I am so glad that I could work from home yesterday and today.

  • Kate

    The timing couldn’t have been worse. Two hour early departure meant that everyone piled out of their offices at the same time, JUST as the sleet/freezing rain started coming down heavily on top of the morning’s icy slush. It was very slippery to walk in. I waited in what became a huge line for the 16Y. The first bus normally arrives around 3:45 pm. It showed up around 5 pm and REFUSED to let any of us on. He had PLENTY of standing room left plus a few extra seats in the back!!! SO angry and not letting this cruelty pass without making a stink. The crowd mostly gave up waiting for the next one. “Next Bus” kept telling us five minutes, five minutes.

    I caught a ride with some folks and it took us another 4 and a half hours to get across the bridge and on to Route 50 to Walter Reed/Fillmore. And we were running out of gas and had to pee.

    • Lou

      It was all about the timing. This was not a big deal snow, other than the fact it happened during rush hour.

      All the main roads in my area are completely cleared this morning (Washington Blvd, Fairfax, Glebe, Wilson). The side streets have mostly not been plowed, but that’s normal. You just deal with it. I don’t usually see a plow on my street until 24-36hrs after a snow like this.

      Maybe they could treat the side streets before the snow, I don’t know if that would help avoid the packed ice that forms before the plows arrive.

    • Glebe Roader

      With a 2 hour early departure, I left the office at about 2:30 and arrived home in Arlington at about 3:00. Have to drive through DC from Maryland to get to Arlington — no problems. It didn’t start snowing until about 3:45, when I was safely home. I didn’t leave my commute to fate or the snowplows, I took it into my own hands.

      • Katie

        Glebe Roader, a lot of us work in the private sector and have to stay as late as possible to get our work done.

        • Glebe Roader

          Katie, I understand that some people work in the private sector. But, what I was commenting on was a previous comment that “everyone piled out of their offices at the same time” with the 2 hour early dismissal. That wasn’t true — I was able to leave earlier because I get to work earlier.

    • 2 hours

      Aren’t two hour early dismissals intended to allow employees to leave two hours earlier than they would normally (i.e. employees who work 0700-1530 would leave at 1330, etc). Everyone should not be heading for the doors when the email comes out indicating 2 hour early dismissal. Not everyone works the same “9 to 5.” Poor weather forecasting, extreme snowfall amounts over short periods of time during rush hour, standard DC traffic congestion, and uneducated drivers are the problem here.

      • AllenB

        I wouldn’t say there was poor weather forecasting. The Capital Weather Gang on WashingtonPost, and I think others, were all saying 24 hours earlier that the worst part of the storm would hit at rush hour… and boy, did it. I think it was poor planning on many individuals part to not have an alternate work plan that caused the horrendous problems yesterday.

    • Kate

      I said the same thing in another post (oops, another Kate? I should probably change my name for this) – it was just really, really bad timing. I also got on one of the 16s at Pentagon and after two hours, we didn’t get very far.

  • Sane Human

    People who chose to get in their cars at 5pm and drive through the middle of this storm are not very bright. There couldn’t have been more of an accurate detailed warning of what was about to happen…practically down to the minute. Get a clue folks. Next time get home before the storm starts. Unless you were performing open heart surgery at your job, I’m sure you could have gotten up and left.

    • OX4

      +25

      The Capital Weather Gang on WAPO was saying that morning to not be in your car after 4 PM. If your boss made you stay until 5 PM to finish a memo, perhaps you need to talk to HR about your manager’s competency.

  • Blame OPM

    The blame should really be on the OPM for this mess more than anyone else. For a significant number of people who consider a normal office closing time to be 5:30, a two hour early dismissal means leaving at 3:30, which was right as the precipitation was changing over. There is no possible way to clear the snow and slush from the roads when there are traffic jams everywhere. There was some form of precipitation throughout the entire day which makes for an unpleasant commute on any day. People should have been dismissed earlier in the afternoon to allow them to leave work and get home ahead of the sleet and snow, rather than sending a significant portion of the region’s working people traveling through somewhat treacherous conditions. While it is true that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own safety, it is difficult to monitor weather and road conditions while at work, as many people do not work near windows or work several stories above ground level and probably have actual work to do to honestly earn their paychecks. Considering how many other organizations in the Washington Metro region follow OPM’s judgement on operating status, I would hope that these decisions on closings would be made very carefully with a great emphasis on everyone’s safety.

  • Jeff From DC

    Getting on the GW Parkway was a better idea than being on 495 where 18 wheelers were wiping out cars left and right( in addition to the 4 wheel drivers plowing into other cars, medians, etc). Traffic was bad everywhere. I got to the parkway at 4PM, after sitting on the highway for about an hour and half, right when it started picking up. Got off the Parkway around 3. I don’t blaim VDOT and the fallen trees as much as I do the people that just abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the road. Not pulling over to the curb, just park and walk. With all the abandoned vehicles I thought it was the Rapture. At least I had a good book on me.

  • Craig

    For some people, the parkway is just about the only option. I work at CIA where there is no public transportation and taking a shuttle from the Pentagon yields the same results — parkway traveling. Why didn’t the park police just close the parkway, not allowing drivers to get on when they knew there were multiple accidents? Once you get on from the CIA exit, you are basically stuck with nowhere to turn off. I DO blame VDOT or park police or whomever is responsible. Seven hours to clear some accidents and trees? Really? Just move the obstruction out of the way and get cars past it. And this morning still couldn’t clear the snow and debris? Come up with a better plan, this is a MAJOR roadway.

    • WorstCommuteEver

      Craig: I totally agree with you.

      I checked traffic before leaving the office and did not find anything unusual with regards to my route (GW to 495 to 270). The radio was of no help and my Sirius Weather Channel was also useless. Once you’re on GW, you’re trapped. Especially if you do not have 4WD to escape through the median without assistance.

      I felt like emergency personnel just left us out there to rot. Sitting for 11 hours (even more for some) is ridiculous. My car had to be turned off most of the night because if I had left it idling; I would have run out of gas; leaving another car stranded on the road.

    • Charlie

      The 23 bus does serve CIA. Sure it might not take you door to door and may not have ben ny better than a car BUT Langley IS serve by public transit.

  • R0bespierre

    I’m closer to the side that thinks VDOT should take more responsibility. When all of this was about to hit, the first thing that crossed my mind was “man, the parkway is going to suck.” If I don’t even work in emergency management and I can realize that, why can’t they?

  • No Problem

    Forecast said changing over around 2. At 2:20 I heard sleet on my office window. At 2:30 I was on the road in heavy sleet. Traffic was lighter than a normal rush, and I moved at a fair speed. Stopped to get the reqired milk, TP, and beer and I was home slightly after 3. Had I not bothered to listen to the forecast I would have been screwed like the folks who waited. Next time you think a few hours of personal time isn’t worth it think of sitting in your car for 18 hours. It is worth it.

    • Carter

      You are right. Everyone should have left at 2.30, thus creating the worst gridlock ever. Genius idea.

  • Paul

    I was one of the unfortunates who spent the night on the GW Parkway. I work at a government agency and since my normal departure time is 6, I left around 3:45, thinking I would sneak that extra 15 minutes. I have deadlines this week that I need to hit, sensitive data I can’t take with me to a personal machine, and no other option but to be at work. To make it worse, I live in Ashburn, and at that time of day, you cannot take 66W due to the HOV restriction. So I did what I always do, took GW Parkway.

    Big mistake. I got on the parkway at around 4:30pm and didn’t make it home until almost 5am.

    For those of you guys saying what morons people are to be caught in traffic – there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t just phone it in yesterday, and I did leave more than 2 hours earlier than normal.

    I absolutely do think VDOT or the Park Police should be held accountable for this. Not only was it grossly irresponsible to leave thousands of motorists stranded for 12+ hours, what I found worse was the total lack of communication. Every now and again we’d see a Police vehicle heading northbound in the southbound lanes, but no attempts were made at communicating anything. Its truly appalling that it took over 12 hours to clear the roadway.

    I shudder to think of what an actual emergency in this region is going to look like. If the incompetency displayed last night is any indicator of the future, I think we’re all doomed.

    • Westover

      Well your only mistake here is living all the way out in Ashburn. ;)

      Once the trees fell, and there were thousands of cars on the Parkway, I don’t think there was much more that could have been done than what they did. It is not the Park Police officers job, and they are not skilled or equiped, to remove the trees themselves. At least they kept the southbound lanes clear so that if there had been an emergency they could have reached them. Over on Rock Creek Parkway, it took an hour or so for the first emergency workers to arrive at the poor women crushed in her pick-up.

      • Paul

        You’re right, of course. If the resources which would otherwise have been working on getting me home were working on saving someone’s life, then my hardship pales in comparison.

        Part of me just needed to vent.

        Last night was one to remember, though I might try very hard to forget it.

  • got stuck

    Paul, I am right there with you. Trees had already fallen and hundreds of others were like sitting ducks waiting for the next one to fall. Thank goodness nobody got injured or killed like the poor woman in NW. I passed along my concerns to the NPS here: http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/index.htm and I encourage you to do the same.

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