Road crews ready for storms

Published 10:42 am Saturday, February 6, 2010

FRANKLIN—A week after a winter storm dumped more snow than the region has seen in years, another was poised to dump even more wintry precipitation this weekend.

According to the National Weather Service in Wakefield, 1 to 2 inches of snow was possible across the region Saturday.

On Friday afternoon, Virginia Department of Transportation crews and crews from Franklin Public Works were gearing up for a second round of wintry weather.

“Our salt bins have been stocked back up, and the trucks have all been cleaned and gone through and prepared in case we have to go out,” said Russ Pace, Franklin’s director of Public Works. “We do have people again on standby who will be ready to respond.”

VDOT has already drained the $79 million set aside for statewide snow-removal this year. The agency has now tapped into a $25 million emergency maintenance reserve fund, and if that is exhausted, money will be transferred from non-safety-related maintenance programs.

“Motorist safety is always the top priority for VDOT — whether responding to winter weather or when conducting day-to-day operations,” said Gregory Whirley, acting VDOT commissioner. “We will not reduce service levels or scale back on snow-removal efforts regardless of how much it costs this year. Our crews will be out in full force this week and for the rest of the winter no matter what the impact is to our budget.”

Franklin City Manager June Fleming said Friday afternoon that the city doesn’t have an amount set aside specifically for snow removal.

“We have a budget line from which we buy things like salt and sand and, so far, we are not in any danger,” she said.

VDOT’s goal for typical snowstorms is to have all roads passable within 48 hours after a storm ends. Crews first clear interstates, primary roads and major secondary roads. VDOT maintains roads in Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.

Pace said the city also works to clear primary routes first.

“Our first priority is to keep our emergency services folks moving as best we can,” he said.

Some criticized the city’s response to last weekend’s storm and complained about road conditions compared with other areas.

However, the city has limited manpower and equipment compared to other areas, Pace said. The city has two trucks equipped with spreaders and plows and a third with just a plow. He also noted that clearing city streets involves obstacles that other areas don’t have, like manholes and storm drains.

“All of that makes a difference,” he said. Despite that, city streets remained passable and the police didn’t report traffic problems, Pace said.

He said the employees working during the storm “performed excellent” and worked “long, hard hours in some right bad conditions, and I’m awful proud of everything they did.”

In retrospect, Pace said that the one thing that could’ve been done differently was the decision to hold off on plowing the streets Saturday. By the time crews started plowing, snow and ice had started freezing to roadways, he said.

“That was not any decision that was made by any of the men. That was a decision that I made,” he said. “If I have to decide again, I won’t make that same decision.”

Pace said that 10 to 15 people worked rotating 12-hour shifts to get the streets clear of snow and ice. He said it was “unfair” to place blame with the workers.

“I’m the boss down here, and I’ll take the licks when something doesn’t reach anyone’s particular standards, and I’m happy to do that,” Pace said. “We’ll try to improve and do better next time.”

Pace said that it’s important that drivers adjust their driving to the “conditions at hand,” by slowing down and leaving plenty of stopping distance, or just stay home when conditions are bad.

“It’s a whole lot easier to get roads cleared up out there when there’s no traffic on them,” he said.