How soon should it take to get the roads passable?
Story by Chris Graham
It can be hard, to say the least, to manage expectations with regard to cleaning streets and roadways after snowstorms. Which is to say, it can be hard to manage the high level of expectations that we have following storms, namely to have streets and roads cleared as soon as is humanly possible, if not sooner than that.
“Some folks like to think we can spend an unlimited amount of time and money and remove all snow from all street surfaces. That is not a reasonable goal or outcome as we certainly do not have an unlimited amount of time and money,” said Jim Halasz, the assistant city manager in Staunton, which does not have in place specific guidelines setting time deadlines for having streets cleared of snow and ice following storms.
The same is the case in Waynesboro, according to City Manager Mike Hamp. Waynesboro officials do try to operate within a general guideline of having streets in passable condition within 24 hours of a storm in snow events up to 8 inches in accumulation, but dealing with amounts over that threshold can be and has proven to be problematic this winter.
Factors that have to be taken into consideration on that line – how much more than 8 inches we’re talking about, the heaviness of the snow, whether there was sleet or freezing rain mixed in, and the condition of roads prior to the snow event.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, for its part, does have a specific deadline in mind. According to Staunton District VDOT spokesperson Sandy Myers, VDOT’s goal is to have made at least one snow-removal pass on all state-maintained roads within 48 hours after a storm stops.
Myers points out that “this is a goal, and given the amount of snow we have received, in some cases that might not be realistic.”
“Second point – one pass on a road does not mean the road will be down to bare pavement. The road may still have several inches of snow on it – but on most paved secondary roads, the road is passable for vehicles to get out onto the main roads,” Myers said.
The rumblings in Waynesboro have been pronounced with the recent run of winter storms bringing out the different approaches to snow removal taken by VDOT, which takes care of clearing roads and highways in Augusta County, and the city. One AFP reader wrote in today to suggest that the city earmark money from a recent budget surplus to snow removal, assuming like many that the slow go at clearing streets must be budget-related.
In actuality, it’s not a matter of whether the city has the funds to do the job. The city budgets for snow removal from its VDOT urban maintenance funds, Hamp said, and in this rare winter in recent years where the snow-removal cost has exceeded the line item in the budget for snow removal, the city shifts funds within the urban maintenance funds budget that had been earmarked for other projects to go toward snow removal.
So the money is there, generally speaking, to do the job. The issue isn’t so much money, then, as it is capacity.
“We don’t have the resources to handle snow removal that, say, a Syracuse would have, where you have these kinds of heavy-snow events more frequently,” Hamp said.
If you’re a city official in a place like Syracuse, N.Y., you’re going to need to have in your budget a good bit more in the way of snow-removal resources in terms of both equipment and staff to make it through a winter than you are in a locality like Waynesboro, where the average snowfall is less than half what it is in upstate New York.
“We don’t want to mismanage expectations. Our goal is to manage situations faithfully and effectively without deadlines necessarily in place that may or may not be realistic in all cases,” Hamp said.