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VDOT readies for winter

By Robert Thomson

Branco Vlacich, part of a team at the Virginia Department of Transportation that 's responsible for clearing 17,679 lane miles in the D.C. region, displayed the National Weather Service forecast he received for the upcoming season: "equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation," it said.

This is what drives the plow planners nuts. They have to be ready for anything, while spending taxpayer money prudently. Vlacich, speaking this morning to a group of local officials and their representatives who wanted to be briefed on winter preparations, said that further review with forecasters suggested we'll see fewer big snows but more ice storms.

Here's what else will be different this winter.

Trucks to subdivisions: Salt and sand trucks will be sent to subdivisions in VDOT's portion of Northern Virginia whenever the forecast calls for two or more inches of snow. Previously, VDOT said, trucks were deployed to subdivisions once two inches had fallen. Each subdivision will have at least one truck assigned to it. The department hopes to assign the same driver to the subdivision for the entire winter, so the driver can be familiar with the streets and the trouble spots.

More trucks: VDOT has lined up 600 more contract trucks for this winter, for a total of 2,600 pieces of equipment ready to clear a six-inch storm. About 90 percent of that comes from contractors.

Trucks assigned to police: Some officials at the meeting in VDOT's new Northern Virginia headquarters were concerned about getting emergency equipment, including ambulances, where they are needed during a storm. VDOT said that a dozen contracted vehicles will be assigned to the state police to assist with specific emergencies. Besides getting help where it's needed in emergencies, that means that VDOT will be less likely to pull a plow from another assignment.

Updated subdivision maps: Allison Richter, who works with Vlacich at VDOT, displayed some of the department's 650 updated maps for Northern Virginia subdivisions. (There are about 350 maps for Fairfax County alone.) The supervisors and the plow drivers use these maps to complete the neighborhood assignments. They also show individual trouble spots in subdivisions that need extra treatment. Once a driver completes a minimum of one pass on all the roads shown on the driver's map, the driver reports back that the route is complete and awaits instructions.

Vehicle locator system: VDOT wants to become less dependent on the plow drivers, monitors and the public for ensuring that the work is done. This season, the department is offering contactors a $1,000 per truck incentive to install Automatic Vehicle Locators that will allow VDOT to track which streets have been plowed and when.

By Robert Thomson  | November 10, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Driving  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, winter weather  
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