VDOT now prepped for winter weather

Cliff Balderson, Edinburg VDOT residency administrator, leans on a wing plow truck that will be used to clear area roads this winter. VDOT held its winter weather preparedness news conference Tuesday at the Stephens City district office. Rich Cooley/Daily
Aaron Vance, VDOT supervisor at Stephens City's district office, is surrounded by salt that is stockpiled for wintry weather. The Stephens City district office stores 740 tons at full capacity. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – State transportation officials say the agency remains ready to handle whatever nature brings to Virginia this winter.

The Virginia Department of Transportation held a news conference on winter-weather preparedness at its Stephens City headquarters in the Staunton district Tuesday.

VDOT used 38,408 tons of salt in the 11 counties across the district in fiscal 2016, according to information from agency spokeswoman Sandy Myers. VDOT used 70,900 tons of salt in the previous fiscal year for the district, Myers said. She called last year an anomaly with its one, major snowstorm as compared to the previous period that brought more consistent winter weather.

VDOT treats roads ahead of large storms, Myers said. However, the agency doesn’t treat the roads if it rains or the temperature falls below 20 degrees fahrenheit, she added.

The district coffers can hold approximately 40,000 tons, said Stacy Sager, district maintenance infrastructure manager. The agency aims to keep its stores at 100 percent around this time of year and replenishes the supply as it tackles snow and ice on the roads, she added.

VDOT allocated $15.1 million of its $213.5 million snow-removal budget for the Staunton district, which covers the Northern Shenandoah Valley, including the counties of Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren. By comparison, the Northern Virginia district has $89.7 million and the Salem district has $17.1 million. VDOT’s budget for snow removal has increased for this fiscal period while district funding is slightly less than last year, Sager said. VDOT determines district budgets based on a five-year average, Myers said.

The Northern Virginia district receives much more money than Staunton and other areas primarily because of the number of neighborhood roads the agency needs to plow or treat, Myers explained. Cliff Balderson, residency administrator, said population density, the road network and cost to perform the work play into the budget for Northern Virginia.

The Staunton district has 11,365 pieces of snow-removal equipment – 241 owned by VDOT and 995 hired by the agency to perform the work. Hiring outside help makes economic sense because the agency doesn’t need to pay for the equipment 12 months out of the year, Myers said. The district has the right amount of hired help, Sager said.

“I think we feel, as a management team, we’re probably pretty close to a good number that we can provide the service we need to,” Sager said. “I don’t think we’re overloaded and I don’t think we’re under.”

VDOT spokesman Ken Slack commented that the ratio of hired help to agency staff can change throughout the season depending on the storm.

Last year the district put into service a new wing plow that allows the vehicle to clear a wider path. Balderson and others said the district has benefited from the new equipment.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.

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