Like the residents of Northern Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation remembers the interstates throughout the region becoming parking lots during a snowstorm Jan. 26. That snowstorm dropped between 3 and 8 inches in some areas.
Branco Vlacich, district maintenance administrator for VDOT, said $33 million was budgeted for snow removal in Northern Virginia last winter but $83 million was spent. This year VDOT has budgeted $55 million for snow removal in the region. Vlacich said VDOT arrived at the budgeted number after looking at how much was spent last winter, resources used and projected snowfall this winter.
“We did anti-icing that morning but a lot of it washed away,” Vlacich said Thursday about the Jan. 26 snowstorm. “We mobilized crews the night before. This was going to be a big event and we knew that.”
Northern Virginia saw more than 10 inches of snowfall last winter and could see between 10 and 11 inches this winter, according to the National Weather Service.
At last week's winter snow briefing in Fairfax, Vlacich said VDOT has updated their snow maps and will have more than 1,100 trucks equipped with an Automatic Vehicle Locator. The AVL system is a pilot program that allows VDOT officials to track trucks and monitor their plowing progress by computer. About 95 percent of VDOT’s snow crews are private contractors and they are each given a $900 bonus for installing the AVL system and reimbursed $600 for the equipment.
By monitoring the progress of crews removing snow, Vlacich said VDOT could redirect crews done in their snow map area to another area to assist other crews. He said VDOT will simultaneously deploy two sets of crews in the case of a large snowfall: a crew to high-volume roads and another crew with smaller trucks to housing developments.
Vlacich said VDOT monitors the weather consistently through weather reports from NWS and Meridian Weather Service. If a storm picks up speed, a conference call between VDOT and other states officials is done to decide how to handle the roads. VDOT is responsible for plowing more than 17,000 miles of roads, more than 8,700 miles of that are local roads in Northern Virginia.
“One of the things we’ve learned is how important it is to pre-treat the roads before it snows,” Vlacich said.
VDOT has 600 snow maps that show crews what areas need to be plowed. About 350 of those maps outline areas in Fairfax County. With the AVL system and the snow maps, Vlacich said crews would not overlap efforts and clear more roads.
Time is an important aspect of snow removal in Northern Virginia because of the volume of traffic at any given time on the roads. In the Jan. 26, named “Commute-a-geddon” by VDOT, Vlacich said there were several cars on the roads at the same time because of early dismals from work and schools. He said rush hour in the region stretches between five and six hours. It took more than 10 hours for some people to get home during “Commute-a-geddon.”
“I try to plow before rush hour and between rush hours,” Vlacich said. “In that case, it was an obstacle course to get around cars. Once the cars were cleared, it took us about two hours to clear the roads.”
In the case of a large snowstorm, VDOT has offered these tips:
- Work from home and stay inside if you can.
- Park on the odd-numbered side of the street and allow room for snowplows to come down your block.
- Call VDOT to report road hazards or ask road-related questions at 1-800-367-7623.
- Visit VDOT at www.virginiadot.org for information and to view the AVL website to see if snow in your neighborhood has been removed or is in the process of being removed.
- Check real-time updates and get road views from cameras on the interstates at www.511virginia.org.