Assessing the cleanup

Published 10:30 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The first true test of the city’s ability to handle a snowstorm went well, all things considered, says Eric Nielsen, the city’s director of public works.

Since the city took over care of its roads from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2006, the storm that arrived early on the morning of Jan. 30 brought the first significant snowfall to blanket the city. But the process of clearing the city’s roads began back in October, when drivers began practicing their snow routes before the snow came, Nielsen said.

The drivers practice for snow every October, because it is important to know the layout of the roads — such as where the ditches are and where a U-turn is possible — before snow blurs the lines between roads and the shoulder.


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“You want to be familiar with the roads,” Nielsen said. “When the snow comes, you’ve already identified places that are appropriate for a U-turn.”

The city’s 25 dump trucks that were purchased in 2006 came from the factory with hookups for snow plows and spreaders, Nielsen said. The factory installation is important, because retrofits “never seem to work real well,” Nielsen said.

During the storm, the dump trucks crisscrossed the city’s primary roads beginning early on Saturday, plowing snow and dumping about $200,000 worth of salt, sand and other abrasives on the asphalt. A total of 36 blades — the replaceable part of the plow that comes in contact with the road — wore out during and after the storm.

“I think we had the right number of snowplows,” Nielsen said. “I probably got at least five calls from people that thought we should have done more.”

Nielsen said, however, that the city doesn’t need more than 25 dump trucks for its year-round needs, so buying additional trucks specifically for snow plowing would not be cost-effective.

Despite the effort, there were still complaint calls. Several residents reported their mailboxes were damaged by the snow, Nielsen said, and one caller believed that a chemical should be developed that would completely prevent snow from accumulating on the road.

However, there were an equal number of “good-job” calls, Nielsen said. One caller reported that his coworkers who live in cities to the east were dissatisfied with their city’s road-clearing, and the man called Nielsen to say he “thought we did a bang-up job,” Nielsen said.

“A lot of people appreciate what we did.”

For future storms, Nielsen said his crews plan to pay better attention to the condition of Route 460. The city is split into quarters for road-clearing purposes, and Route 460 lies on the edge of two districts. Public Works employees noticed early Sunday morning that the road needed extra attention, and they concentrated efforts there until it was clear, Nielsen said.

Public Works employees now are working on repairing potholes that opened during the storm. Residents can report a pothole online at