Transportation creeps back after Sandy slams area

For the second consecutive year, transportation crews got their winter tune-up before Halloween, battling blinding rain and high winds as well as slick roads and blizzard conditions.

At the height of the storm overnight, 132 state roads were closed and 111 signals were dark, according to the State Highway Administration.


As snow piled up at more than an inch an hour in Western Maryland, a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 68 was closed as trucks with snowblower attachments and a "towplow," a double-wide snowplow, cleared the way. At the other end of the state, powerful floodwaters tore apart a 72-inch culvert under Old Ocean City Road and opened a huge sinkhole

In all 1,200 SHA workers were on duty from Deep Creek Lake to Ocean City.


"The challenge was the intensity and diversity of the storm," said Melinda Peters, SHA administrator. "We were prepared. We had the right assets in the right locations to succeed."

Little by little, the transportation system is returning to normal.

The last airline to shut down at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Monday morning was the first to come back 24 hours later. A chartered military Delta 747 from Ramstein Air Base in Germany touched down at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Delta resumed commercial flights later in the afternoon and United was planning to ramp up service in the evening. Southwest and its subsidiary, AirTran — together responsible for more than 70 percent of BWI's commercial traffic — are set to resume operations by mid-Wednesday. Nationwide, the two carriers canceled nearly 1,700 flights from Sunday evening through midday Wednesday.

Although sustained winds reached 40 mph with gusts to 59 mph Monday night, the airport fared well in the storm, said Paul Wiedefeld, BWI's executive director. The electricity remained on, the facility did not experience significant flooding or damage, and the airfield stayed open and clear of debris.

In fact, BWI used Monday's storm, with its poor visibility and bad driving conditions, to practice its snow-removal operation. Crews tested equipment on the runway and went through simulated exercises with the control tower.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard relaxed restrictions on vessel movements in the access channels leading to the port of Baltimore. As a result, some cargo operations at the port will resume Tuesday evening. All truck gates at the port will reopen Wednesday at regular hours and port operations will return to normal, said Richard Scher, Maryland Port Administration spokesman.

But the shutdown caused a traffic jam at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, with 28 ships waiting to either arrive or leave Baltimore's port.


Meanwhile the 963-foot Carnival Pride cruise ship, which left Baltimore Sunday evening without passengers, remains anchored off Calvert County. It is not expected to return to Baltimore until Wednesday at the earliest, Scher said.

As the winds subsided, Maryland's five toll bridges returned to standard operations just before 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Bay Bridge was rocked by 74-mph sustained winds and struck by 90-mph gusts three times. The bridge closed for 18.25 hours — the longest weather-related shutdown in its history. It reopened at 9 a.m. Tuesday following a damage assessment by bridge inspectors.

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The Francis Scott Key Bridge was closed for nearly 9.5 hours, and the Hatem Bridge carrying U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River was closed for about 13.5 hours.

Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said there was no significant damage or incidents at any bridge or tunnel.

The Maryland Transit Administration resumed subway service and limited bus and mobility paratransit service for disabled riders, spokesman Terry Owens said. The MTA's light rail system will remain suspended through Tuesday, though, to give crews time to reinstall crossing gates. They were removed as a precaution during the storm.


MARC trains and commuter bus lines remain closed, as does the low-cost carrier Bolt Bus. Most Amtrak service in the Northeast was still suspended Tuesday. Amtrak will decide late Tuesday whether limited service north and south of New York City will resume Wednesday.

As water continues to recede, the next step for SHA workers is to assess road and bridge damage, Peters said.

"You could say we've had a tune-up for every kind of event," she said. "But having said that, I wouldn't complain if we had another mild winter like last year."