VDOT unveils laser-equipped snowplow

Cliff Balderson, VDOT Edinburg residency administrator, stands behind one of the area's new wing plow trucks that will be used to clear area highways during winter weather. VDOT made the announcement during its snow conference held at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – A snowstorm or two is almost certainly lurking in the region’s near future, and the Virginia Department of Transportation is prepared to meet it with a new kind of plow hopped up with a laser and deluxe wing blade.

The plow, on display Tuesday at Lord Fairfax Community College, is one of four such models acquired by VDOT’s Staunton District in hope of improving its efficiency when the roads turn treacherous.

The massive vehicle cost more than $200,000, but VDOT officials and plow drivers said the combination of front and side blades will allow a 21-foot swath of road to be cleared with each pass. Sandy Myers, VDOT’s communications manager for the area, said one of the new plows can perform the work of two of the older model machines, an enormous advantage in the amount of road surface that can be plowed in a fixed period of time.

“So you’re saving money,” Myers said. “You’re not using as much gas.”

The wing blade plows also come equipped with a laser beam that is supposed to help guide drivers away from mailboxes, many of which have been toppled by errant blades in past snow removal operations.

A laser mounted on top of a wing plow truck casts an ultra-bright, green laser-spot to establish the wing plow's trailing edge location. Rich Cooley/Daily

Despite the considerable sum of money spent on them, the wing plows are still something of an experiment that will be evaluated at the end of the year. Clifton Balderson, VDOT’s administrator in the Edinburg office, said the new plows are projected to be used most often in Frederick County on U.S. highways 522, 50, 340 and 7.

Balderson cautioned that drivers pulling out from behind to pass the plows on the right side of the road may be surprised to see a massive blade extending far from the vehicle’s side. The blade is lighted to allow passing drivers to see it, but Balderson said he was still concerned that some motorists may not adjust when they encounter the device for the first time.

Still, he said he was looking forward to seeing how the wing blade performs.

“I’m optimistic and upbeat about it,” Balderson said.

The Staunton district is claiming $16.6 million of the $202.4 million statewide budget for snow removal. Much of the money is spent on operating 1,129 pieces of equipment, mostly vehicles owned by the agency and contractors.

As in the past, VDOT’s snow removal operations include pre-treatment of roads and positioning vehicles in place in the hours and minutes before the first flakes fall.

The goal of pre-treatment with salt brine is to prevent ice and snow from bonding with the pavement before and after a storm.

The positioning of plows is also important to prevent snow from accumulating on the roads in the early stages of a storm. The exact moment when snow will arrive and start to affect driving conditions is always an uncertainty that requires VDOT to ready its equipment and drivers well in advance.

“We never know if a storm comes in sooner or later,” Balderson said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com