Agency is making preparations for a long, tough winter

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

With most forecasters predicting a cold, wet winter, the Virginia Department of Transportation is budgeting $80 million for snow removal operations statewide this year.

That is the average VDOT has spent on snow removal over the last five years.

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&uot;Eighty million dollars is a reasonable snow removal budget, which will cover the expenses of labor, plowing, materials and equipment for a moderate winter,&uot; said VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet. &uot;A harsh winter may drive expenses over $80 million, and VDOT will make adjustments to its budget to ensure that major roadways are plowed, treated and kept as clear as possible.

&uot;But there may be reduced levels of service for subdivision streets and other roads with lower traffic volumes.&uot;

VDOT’s general standard for snow removal has been to plow interstate highways and major primary and secondary routes first, usually within 12 to 18 hours after the storm stops, Shucet said. Crews try to make at least one pass over lower priority routes, including subdivision streets, within 48 hours of the storm.

&uot;VDOT will adhere to our general snow removal standard, but we may not be able to exceed it as we normally do when removing snow from subdivisions and other lower priority roads when there is heavy show and ice,&uot; he said. &uot;Those roads will be plowed, but it may take crews a longer time to reach those areas.

&uot;We will continue to provide the best service possible within our ability to do so.&uot;

VDOT is prepared to spend more than the $80 million is the upcoming winter requires it, Schuet said. But doing so will result in additional budget cuts next spring.

In the past, if the snow budget was exceeded, VDOT would tap into its statewide maintenance budget to cover the extra expenses. But the excessive costs of last winter’s blizzard, spring floods and Hurricane Isabel required VDOT to necessitate a budgeted snow plan to control expenditures and avoid impacting other critical maintenance programs, Schuet said.

VDOT will strictly manage the snow removal budget by working smarter and reducing expenses without compromising safety, he said.

Some of the measures VDOT will use to make snow removal more efficient include:

Last winter, VDOT spent nearly $144 million on snow preparation and removal. In 1999, the agency’s snow expenditures totaled $70 million; in 2000, $75 million; and 2001, $68 million.