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Mayor's office: Travel can resume for non-emergency vehicles at 6 a.m., Phase II still in effect

Baltimore City officials say they can no longer waste resources on stranded vehicles starting at 6:30 only emergency vehicles will be allowed on the road.

Travel can resume for non-emergency vehicles at 6 a.m., Baltimore City officials said Sunday morning, while Phase II of the city's snow emergency plan still in effect.

The Phase II designation means that all vehicles traveling in the city must be equipped with snow tires, all weather radial tires or snow chains, and parking is restricted along designated snow emergency routes.

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City officials said they urged motorists to remain off the roads as crews continue to work to clear snow from streets. There is currently no estimate for when Phase II will be lifted.

Baltimore officials declared a phase three snow emergency beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, banning private cars from the roads as conditions continued to deteriorate and emergency crews struggled to make their way through clogged streets.

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"This designation comes amid increasing difficulties traveling the roads and poor visibility and many four wheel drive vehicles are getting stuck," the mayor said Saturday.

It was the first time the phase three emergency has been declared since the storms of 2010.

The mayor's team said they hoped that getting civilian vehicles off the streets will give crews more time to clear away snow and help any emergency vehicles that get stuck. William Johnson, the director of the city's transportation department, said officials were diverting too many resources to helping stranded motorists so they decided to impose the driving ban.

"It's just become dangerous," he said.

Fire Department Chief Niles Ford said some fire engines were having a difficult time making it around the city.

"Quite frankly some of our Humvees are struggling," he said.

Baltimore City transportation crews said Saturday they had towed 88 vehicles parked along snow emergency routes and 16 vehicles abandoned after getting stuck on Interstate 83 and other city roads.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a Saturday morning news conference that the figures were an improvement over the February 2010 snowstorms that marked the start of her term.

"Our crews are working very hard, in 12 hour shifts, and because we have been able to do so without significant interference by the number of abandoned vehicles that we have had in the past, we've been able to be effective out there," she said. "We've been able to make a number of improvements since Snowmageddon."

For this storm, she said the city has tripled the number of private contractors helping to remove snow on neighborhood streets. Crews have already identified areas where they can drop snow removed from streets, she said, and a contractor is helping to haul the snow. In 2010, snow was dropped off at Pimlico Race Course, among other locations. The city even had a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment to dump snow in the Inner Harbor.

"While we are prepared more than we've ever been for a snowstorm, a storm of this magnitude requires patience," Rawlings-Blake said. "Don't panic if you haven't seen a snow plow on your street. We have a big city and there's a lot of snow to move."

The mayor asked residents to look after neighbors, call 311 if they see a homeless person out in the storm. She said outreach workers will work with homeless, and that the city has added shuttles to help get them to shelters.

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City snow plow crews could take until Monday to get to streets, but Baltimore officials asked for residents to remain patient through the weekend's storm.

Plowing will continue through Monday "before we start to see our roads cleared up," said Johnson said at the earlier news conference.

Johnson said crews were able to work overnight, despite the high winds and heavy snowfall.

"Our strategy in plowing is to plow continuously so we don't get a huge build up of so much snow that it becomes difficult to push," Johnson said.

But he said cleared roads get quickly covered by new snowfall and drifting snow.

"It's a constant process," he said. The plows aim to keep no more than four to six inches of snow to accumulate before they can get back around.

Plowing will continue through the night and throughout Sunday, and possibly into Monday "before we start to see our roads cleared up," Johnson said. Once roads are cleared, the city has about 8,000 tons of salt ready to put on the streets.

Despite the worsening conditions, Johnson promised to stick to the schedule laid out earlier in the day.

Baltimore County said it expected to start clearing side streets on Saturday evening, after bringing on additional equipment. Even so, officials said plowing wouldn't be complete until Monday evening.

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