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Friday, October 22, 2010

VDOT official promises to do a better job with snow plowing next winter

Remember last February’s snowstorm? Whether you remember being snowbound as a nightmare or a cozy respite, some of us were trapped in our homes for days. If Northern Virginia is hit with another monster snow storm this winter, VDOT will do a much better job of clearing local streets, a VDOT official promised at a Mason District Town Hall meeting Thursday evening convened by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross.

VDOT will have a new “automatic vehicle locator system” in place to better monitor snow removal contractors, Larry Humphries, transportation operations manager for VDOT’s Fairfax Maintenance Division, told a roomful of citizens, many of them with complaints about VDOT’s lack of response during last February’s blizzard, which dumped four feet of snow on the area.

Humprhies said, with a snowfall of up to eight inches, VDOT can get into every subdivision and ensure the streets are “passable,” but acknowledged that some residents disagree with VDOT over the meaning of “passable.” To VDOT, he said, “a street in a subdivision is passable if you have a two-wheel vehicle and can back out of your driveway and get to the main road without slipping and sliding.”

“If you expect bare pavement in every storm, you’re not going to get it,” he said, especially when there is more than 12 inches of now, there are trees down, the snow freezes. “We do the best we can with what we have.”

VDOT got many, many calls from people complaining that VDOT missed their street. The plows are 11 feet wide, and they can’t get through narrower streets ending in a cul-de-sac if cars are lining both sides of the street. Plows also can’t get through when cars get stuck and owners leave them in the street. A police officer in the audience said, “We will tow abandoned cars if we can get to them.” And Gross advised, “If you don’t have to go out, don’t go out.”

It would be helpful if, before a snow storm, residents put their cars in the driveway and negotiate with their neighbors to move all the cars to one side of a street. One resident wondered why the county can’t require one-side parking before a storm. Gross said Fairfax County can’t mandate that but could issue an advisory to residents.

In response to the complaints about huge mountains of snow, Humphries said, “when you have 40 inches of snow, there is absolutely nowhere to put it.” Gross said she remembered a major snowstorm in 1966 when dump trucks piled snow onto the frozen Potomac River. “We can’t do that now. It’s an environmental hazard,” she said.

Humpries noted VDOT received many complaints after the snow melted about damage to walls, sprinkler systems, lights, and landscaping caused by snowplows. If those structures and plantings were in the right of way and the owner didn’t get a permit, VDOT won’t repair the damage, he said.

If you have a problem with snow removal next winter, or any issues with the road maintenance, here’s VDOT’s complaint number: 703/383-VDOT.


  1. I am sorry I missed this. Or maybe not. It is easy to promise to do a better job than last year - we are not going to get anywhere near that amount of snow...nor will the temps stay below freezing for so long afterwards. The county did not come anywhere close to a 'passable' neighborhood nor do they have any intention of doing so. They (may) plow once and then let the sun and temps do the rest (a strategy that works only if and when the weather cooperates). My drive to the main roads was not passable, by Mr. Humphries standards, for at least two weeks after Snowmageddon.

    There there is the issue of plows piling snow on, around and against fire hydrants.

    And the issue of missed streets altogether.

    And people bribing, er, compensating plow drivers to get their streets done.

  2. Mr. Humphries seemed difficult to deal with and did not really seem to care about the job getting done. He had a “matter of fact” type of attitude. Maybe VDOT should look into replacing him in the near future before winter.

    1. Along with may other reasons!

  3. I used to work for VDOT and want to try to get back on with them because their insurance is first rate and they have other excellent benefits (which is why I'm remaining safely anonymous) have met and worked with Larry Humphries and CAN TELL you he's an arrogant douche. He's been doing the job a long time and is probably burnt out.