Warm Outside, But Officials Cold-Minded
VDOT, City Getting Ready For Winter
Posted: December 6, 2012
HARRISONBURG — December afternoons with temperatures in the 60s may be making a mockery of Winter Preparedness Week.
“I’m loving this,” said Don Komara, administrator for the Harrisonburg residency of the Virginia Department of Transportation on Tuesday, as the mercury rose to near 70 degrees. “I’d wear shorts if I could.”
Yet VDOT officials, as well as their counterparts at the Harrisonburg Public Works Department, have set their sights on colder weather. As they do each year at this time, they are using this week to ready the public for the winter months.
Gov. Bob McDonnell declared Dec. 2-8 as Winter Preparedness Week. The first day of winter is Dec. 21.
VDOT’s Harrisonburg residency along North Valley Pike removes snow from Rockingham, Page and Augusta counties. It is part of the Staunton District, which spans the central Shenandoah Valley.
The Harrisonburg Public Works Department clears roads within the city limits.
The Staunton District has $10.4 million in its budget for snow removal this year, roughly the same amount as last winter. The entire state department has $145 million, with more than a third of it, $55.7 million, allocated to Northern Virginia.
That total figure is up from the $126 million budgeted last year. According to VDOT, only $63.8 million was spent on preparation, anti-icing and snow removal last winter, while the remainder went toward maintenance in what was a mild season.
This year, the state is off to a bigger spending start because of Hurricane Sandy, which forced the department to use $3.3 million to clear roads when 2 feet of snow fell in parts of Virginia in October.
The city, meanwhile, has an annual placeholder of about $250,000 in its budget for emergency response and snow removal, Public Works Director Jim Baker said. That allocation covers only chemicals, overtime pay and fuel, and not equipment replacement or normal labor costs.
“At the end of the snow season, we can look at the actual cost,” Baker said. “Last year, we didn’t hardly spend any of it.”
According to the city’s budget report from June, about $185,000 was spent on snow and ice removal last winter.
Salt, Salt, Salt
Komara said his residency has more than 6,000 tons of salt stored in its “salt dome” on North Valley Pike and ready to spread on county roads. A typical winter will see VDOT use about 1,500 tons of salt, he said.
The residency also relies on equipment from subcontractors. About 260 pieces of “hired” equipment, such as snowplows from subcontractors, will be available this year.
“The more we try to get meaner and leaner, so to speak, the more we try to get the other guys to help us,” Komara said.
VDOT urges motorists to prepare for rapidly changing weather conditions and to have a plan when looking to travel in potentially wintry weather. If a snowstorm is imminent, or already under way, the agency suggests delaying travel, if possible, or venturing out only in an emergency.
Motorists should also slow down when approaching slow-moving snowplows, giving them the right of way.
In Harrisonburg, public works employees are not the only ones responsible for removing snow and ice. Residents must do their part when it comes to clearing sidewalks and other walkways, city officials say.
Property owners must clear snow from sidewalks in front of or on the side of their homes and businesses within three hours after the precipitation stops or by 10 a.m. the following morning for an overnight storm.
If residents fail to shovel the sidewalk, they could be charged with costs incurred by the city to do the work.
When snow or ice is predicted, VDOT crews pretreat trouble spots on interstates and other high-volume roads with anti-icing chemicals, such as salt brine. That prevents the precipitation from bonding to the asphalt.
VDOT’s goal is to have all its roads passable within 48 hours after a winter storm ends. Interstates, primary roads and major secondary roads that connect schools, hospitals or other vital public buildings get first priority.
The city does the same, putting an emphasis on main roads and routes to Rockingham Memorial Hospital. Its goal is to clear roads within 24 hours after the storm ceases if less than 6 inches of snow falls, within 48 hours if a storm dumps between 6 and 10 inches, and within 72 hours if the total reaches 10 to 15 inches.
Larger snowfalls will be addressed based on the conditions.
City officials suggest that residents prepare emergency kits — to include nonperishable foods, flashlights, batteries and water — and install smoke detectors. The risk of house fires increases in the winter because of the use of chimneys or heating appliances.
The Harrisonburg Fire Department will install smoke detectors for free. Call 432-7703 for details.
For more information on VDOT’s snow plans, visit www.virginiadot.org.
Additional tips and content from the city is available at www.harrisonburgva.gov/winter-safety.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com