VDOT Snow Summit Highlights New Approach to Plowing
When VDOT held a briefing for elected officials and their staff in early
November, we were happy to hear that some lessons had been learned from
the snow storms of 2009-2010, and that new practices have been adopted
and will be implemented for the winter of 2010-2011. What follows is a
summary of the steps being taken to ensure future snow storms will be
dealt with more effectively than those in the past.
Updated snowplow assignment maps: Each of the 650 snow maps in northern Virginia has been updated. These maps show hotspots, boundary lines, schools, police stations, hospitals and bus stops. Early deployment to subdivisions: Salt/sand trucks will be pre-positioned in subdivisions whenever the forecast calls for two or more inches. Previously, trucks were deployed to subdivisions once two inches had fallen. Each subdivision will have at least one dedicated truck, with the intent of assigning the same driver to that subdivision throughout the winter. In larger subdivisions there will be more than one truck.
How neighborhoods are assigned and plowed: Local roads are organized into about 650 “snow maps” and are assigned to plow drivers once main streets are completed. About 350 of these maps are for Fairfax County alone.
Crews begin plowing in subdivisions when two inches has fallen and main thoroughfares in subdivisions will be plowed repeatedly during a storm. Once the storm has stopped and those roads are clear, crews work to make residential streets and cul-de-sacs “passable.” A neighborhood street is considered passable when a path is drivable (with caution) for an average passenger vehicle. The road will not be cleared curb-to-curb or to bare pavement, and may remain snow-packed, uneven and rutted (especially following any refreeze). Chemicals are not typically used in subdivisions, but crews will sand hills, curves and intersections as needed to provide traction.
Once drivers complete a minimum of one pass on the roads in a map, they report back that the route is complete. VDOT judges subdivisions complete through processed snow maps, resident call volume, AVL and feedback from VDOT monitors. To give crews a chance to finish their assigned snow maps, VDOT asks that residents wait a few days after the storm is over before reporting roads as “missed.” Once crews have finished their routes, resident complaints are mapped into a database that feeds lists of locations back to the area headquarters to double-check and address. It is also helpful for crews if residents will park, if possible, on the odd-numbered side of their street to allow plows room to pass.
While VDOT does not remove snow from sidewalks or trails, crews are asked to be mindful of pushing large amounts of snow onto them. With major storms, it is often an unintended consequence of making roads passable. When shoveling driveways, residents should leave the last few feet at the curb until the street is plowed, as the truck will push some snow back. It also helps to shovel to the right facing the road.
Additional equipment: There are 600 additional contractor trucks this winter, bringing the total to 2,600 of equipment (mostly contractor) available for snow and ice removal.
VDOT road priorities: Roads are generally cleared from highest volume to lowest in the following order:
• Interstates (I-66, I-95/395, I-495, etc.),
• High-volume routes (Routes 1, 7, 28, 50, Fairfax County Parkway, Prince William County Parkway, etc.)
• Main thoroughfares in neighborhoods or developments
• Residential streets
Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) pilot program: Contractors are being offered a $1,000 bonus to equip their trucks with AVL which will allow VDOT to track what streets have been plowed, and when they were plowed. VDOT is also reimbursing contractors for the $577 unit and as of November, nearly 400 trucks have installed AVL units. This is a pilot program that will be evaluated at the end of the snow season.
Training: Additional snow plow simulator training has been provided.
Dedicated fleet for Virginia State Police: During major storms and ice events, VDOT is providing a dozen contracted trucks to Virginia State Police. This will help ensure that State Police have trucks to assist with specific emergencies and that VDOT crews can remain focused on their assigned routes.
Budget: Last year’s statewide budget was $93.7 million; more than $250 million was spent. This winter’s statewide budget is $115 million. In Northern Virginia, last winter’s budget was $27 million and $127 million was spent. This winter’s budget is $33 million.
VDOT has a new number to call for reporting road hazards or ask road-related questions, 24/7. It is 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623). You can get real-time updates on traffic incidents and road conditions at www.511virginia.org. There is also a wealth of information on VDOT’s website, www.virginiadot.org.