Before the snow has even hit the ground, VDOT has been working for hours trying to determine the best approach for snow removal. It all begins with VDOT conferring with the National Weather Service and Meridian Weather Service to get the most precise and up to the minute weather forecast. Once the forecast calls for a snow storm, a district wide conference call is placed to develop a plan. If there is a major event (such as last winter) a command center is established. After all of this has taken place, trucks are sent out to apply the anti-ice treatment, a salt water mixture.
Ninety percent or more of snow plows are outsourced and it takes about 5 hours to mobilize contractors. Last winter, it took between 12-14 hours to mobilize contractors. Currently, there are nine facilities throughout Fairfax County that dispatch trucks during a storm.
Roadways are plowed in the following order:
1. Interstate (e.g. I-66,I-95,I-395,I-495)
2. High volume roads (e.g. Rt. 1, 7, 28, 50, 123, Old Keene Mill Rd, Fairfax County Parkway)
3. Main throughways in neighborhoods
4. Residential streets
While the storm is still going, main streets in neighborhoods are plowed repeatedly. Once the storm stops, residential streets and cul-de-sacs are then plowed. Smaller trucks are used for small streets and cul-de-sacs. Subdivision streets get a one plow pass that leaves a path 8-10 feet wide. However, if the snow is less than two inches, the streets get treated, not plowed. Plowing is not useful for such a small amount of snow and can cause more damage than it helps.
After the historic snowfalls last winter, VDOT has revised their approach for snow operations. Crews and contractors must take part in simulator training learning things such as effectively plowing a street and the importance of not plowing onto sidewalks. Trucks used to be only sent into subdivisions once two inches had already fallen on the ground, but VDOT is now sending trucks out in the beginning of the storm. (You may see some plows idling at the top of your neighborhood.) Another new approach is dedicating twelve trucks for state police use and emergencies, instead of taking away plows from a community like last year.
Drivers are given snow assignments, maps highlighting the streets a contractor is assigned to plow within a certain area. Currently, there are 350 up-to-date snow maps in Fairfax County.
Last year, many of my constituents reported the similar problems. Constituents would call my office to let us know their street had not been plowed but when we spoke to VDOT, they gave us a conflicting message. I took my truck out to assess the situation and what I found was that many of the streets that VDOT said had been plowed had not been. As a result, I sent numerous letters to the Secretary of Transportation and Governor McDonnell asking for something to be done to fix the situation. I suggested using a tracking system so the snow plow contractors could be held accountable.
In November of 2010, VDOT held a meeting for legislators introducing a pilot program for snow contractors. The new program uses Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVL) so VDOT can access a vehicle’s whereabouts on the internet and determine where the plow has been, how long the plow has been stopped and how many miles the plow has gone. This system will also be able to show VDOT where the closest plow is to an area that needs attention and VDOT can reroute trucks using the system. VDOT’s hope, and mine, is that VDOT will be able to see which streets have not been plowed and adequately address the problem before constituents and legislators need to get involved.
Additionally, VDOT has acquired 600 more pieces of equipment this year and is extending an incentive to bring on contractors to sign up for the AVL program by offering $1,000 per truck for the purchase of the AVL system.
Questions? Comments? Don’t hesitate to email me at DelDAlbo@house.virginia.gov.