Anger, like the snow, lingers
Travelers can't shake off their snow trauma. About four of every five comments I received during our regular online chat Monday had to do with the continuing struggle to clean up the streets, sidewalks and trails, as well as what could be done better the next time we have a heavy snow.
Meanwhile, I'll never be able to publish all the Dr. Gridlock letters I received about what happened, and what should have happened. This letter from Thursday will illustrate some of the frustrations that lingered even as the snow began to melt.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I don't object to not being plowed early in the storm. I don't live on a main road and expect to be snowed in a few days most winters. I was impressed with the timeliness which the Virginia Department of Transportation got to our road. I was impressed that the first time I called them to let them know a patch still needed treatment, they sent a plow within two hours.
Unfortunately, every time after that I was told my road was "complete." It didn't matter to them that four cars went off the road and at least three more got stuck in a 24-hour period. All they would do was to put a request in the system.
So, I became a one-woman vigilante, calling repeatedly -- waiting to be told we when the request was "completed" and demanding they come back again since the plow hadn't finished the job. I also went out with my snow shovel to try to help clear the road, in addition to helping neighbors get back on the road whenever I noticed a problem. Finally, a private citizen spotted me and my shovel and put the plow down on his pick-up truck. That's how we got our road to its current state.
There should be a supervisor who takes calls from citizens repeatedly calling in about dangerous conditions that the plow drivers have marked off as "complete." In such circumstances, they could easily drive out to the "complete" roads and see if the complaints are valid. It shouldn't be too dangerous, since their own employees have called the street in as safe.
Had VDOT told me that they were working on our street and just hadn't gotten to us yet, I would have waited. To tell me that a 0.2-mile sheet of ice and slush that was sending cars off the road no longer needed treatment should be criminal.
-- Lori Flanagan
The D.C. region's transportation departments were overwhelmed by the back-to-back storms. Their efforts to clear the streets were heroic. My main gripe is that they should have prepared themselves and the rest of us for the difficulties we'd have in getting around for the rest of the month. Expectations on everybody's part were unrealistic, given the scope of the natural disaster we suffered.
I don't expect the departments to hire the staff and equipment to clear three feet of snow in a couple of days. But let's look at the current snow-fighting plan to understand what we went through. We're looking at VDOT not to single out that agency, but because our letter writer is from Virginia.
VDOT is responsible for 17,679 miles of lanes in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties. About half of those miles are highway, and half are local or neighborhood streets. (Arlington maintains its own secondary roads).
Crews begin plowing in neighborhoods when two or more inches of snow has fallen. First, says VDOT, the crews go after the main roads in the neighborhoods and plow them repeatedly. Once the storm has stopped and those roads are clear, crews work to make residential streets and cul de sacs passable.
Many readers have asked for a definition of "passable." This is VDOT's definition: 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 used in subdivisions, but crews will sand hills, curves and intersections as needed to provide traction.
For most storms, one snowplow pass is made on each neighborhood street. VDOT says one pass should leave a path about eight-feet to 10-feet wide. But in bigger storms, like ours this month, making a road passable requires more. Perhaps it's more passes with the plow, but it could also mean bringing in other equipment, including front-end loaders to push aside those deep, heavy, crusty piles of snow.
The neighborhood streets in VDOT's Northern Virginia territory are organized into about 650 "snow maps." Once drivers complete a minimum of one pass on the roads on a map, they report back that the route is complete.
Each plow driver is assigned at least three snow maps. The driver usually will not move on to the second map until one pass is made through all the streets on the first, unless there's an emergency or some other special circumstance.
VDOT judges subdivisions complete by reviewing progress reports from the plowers about their maps. But the department says it also checks on the volume of calls from the neighborhood and what it hears from its own staffers assigned to patrol the streets on those snow maps.
Most people could live with that in a typical snowfall. VDOT figures that in a six-inch snowstorm, it can have all the residential streets passable -- remember the definition above -- within 48 hours of the storm's end.
Of course, there was nothing typical about the three feet of February snow. VDOT estimates that it made the majority of its neighborhoods passable in five days, but that it took a few more days to follow up on requests and complaints.
And VDOT says the volume of calls throughout the snowfall and its aftermath was overwhelming. At one point, the department asked people to stop calling the main service number -- 703-383-VDOT -- and concentrate on e-mailing complaints to novainfo@VDOT.Virginia.gov. There also was an alternative phone number to try. That was 800-367-ROAD.
How does that description match up with your experience? Do you see flaws in the battle plan you'd like to see VDOT address?
Posted by: justanotherguy | February 23, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | February 23, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1995hoo | February 23, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: justanotherguy | February 23, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: KS100H | February 23, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: member5 | February 23, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: stuckman | February 23, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: arc410 | February 23, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.