VDOT ready for winter weather

Clifton M. Balderson, Edinburg Residency administrator for VDOT, speaks during a news conference Monday about the department's snow removal operations for upcoming winter months. Rich Cooley/Daily

WHITE POST — The Virginia Department of Transportation is gearing up for winter snow and ice, officials said at a news conference Monday.

Clifton Balderson, the Edinburg Residency Administrator, said his area for Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties is ready for snow this year. With 260 trucks, the majority operated by contractors, 110 VDOT employees and between 12,000 to 14,000 tons of salt, Balderson said the residency is prepared to meet the winter’s challenges.

“Last year was tenacious, with about 28 to 29 snow events in the district,” Balderson said. “We’ve been training up and restocking to make sure we can meet this year’s demands.”

Before and after each winter season, VDOT will conduct “dry runs” with their equipment to pinpoint what needs to be repaired. Balderson said preparation is key for winter.

“We’ve gotten everything ready to go and we’ve been training personnel throughout the year as well as repairing equipment,” Balderson said. “There were a few times where I was fearful we would run out of salt last year, but we’re resupplied and ready to go.”

As in years past, VDOT will have the roads cleared within 48 hours after the end of a snowstorm. Balderson said VDOT works in a tiered system, making interstates and primary roads such as Route 11 the first priority for snow removal.

“We get a lot of calls asking why we haven’t plowed this road or that, but there is a method to our madness,” Balderson said. “Subdivisions and gravel roads are generally our last priority.”

Balderson said during a snowstorm, motorists need to keep their distance from plow trucks.

“They are long, top heavy and loaded down,” Balderson said. “They can’t handle like a normal vehicle, so just keep your distance when you’re behind them.”

Balderson also recommended the public visit the VDOT website, http://www.511virginia.org or the department’s Twitter, Facebook or Flickr pages for updates during snow storms, as well as to stay off the roads as much as possible during a storm. He also stated that if a motorist comes across a downed power line, he or she should report it.

This year, VDOT will be responsible for clearing Interstate 81, usually assigning one truck to work in conjunction with contractors. Balderson said this should enhance VDOT’s response to snow.

“By having us in charge of the interstate, we will be able to make the call on the spot about a snow event, rather than making a call to make a call,” Balderson said. “It gives us a better handle for adjustments.”

There are seven VDOT facilities through the Edinburg Residency, with salt storage capacities ranging from 900 to 6,000 tons. During a snowstorm, shifts will last 12 hours for crews until the roads are cleared. Balderson said VDOT is looking for people to plow for the season.

“If you have a good driving record and can meet our requirements, we’ll never turn anybody away looking for seasonal work,” Balderson said.

VDOT allocated $145.5 million for the 2014-2015-winter season, an $11.5 million decrease from last year’s budget. According to Sandy Myers, VDOT communications manager, the decrease is a result of a different measuring system for the budget.

“We’re taking the standard eight-hour day for VDOT employees this year, meaning we’re only showing the cost of materials and contractors we hire,” Myers said. “By leaving out the VDOT employee days, we are able to isolate the true cost of snowstorms.”

Statewide, VDOT has 11,993 pieces of snow removal equipment, with 948 in the Staunton district, which encompasses Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah counties. 336,678 tons of salt are stocked statewide, as well as 122,766 tons of sand, 60,850 of gravel and salt mixed, 564,405 gallons of liquid calcium chloride and 1.1 million gallons of salt brine.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com