Let it snow!

By Posted on Jan 19 2016 | By

VDOT and Town of Warrenton poised to plow

Typically two camps form when the white stuff falls; lovers and aginners. But eventually most folks meld into a single mindset; melt already.

Welcome to the paradox of a winter wonderland. As snowflakes drift down on our pastoral Piedmont landscapes, scenes unfold reminisce of a Currier and Ives print.

It’s simply beautiful.

But the reality shifts from delight to work after the storm moves on. Let’s get those driveways and walks cleared. And oh by the way, “Where are the snow plows?”

Fortunately, Fauquier County answers that question before the snow begins accumulating. It’s taken for granted that our highways and byways will be asphalt black in short order. Why?

Because there’s no plan like a snow plan.

snowplowFauquier County has two entities responsible for clearing its roadways; Virginia Department of Transportation and the Town of Warrenton.

Throughout the Old Dominion VDOT is responsible for the vast majority of the state’s more than 57,000 miles of roads.

Larger towns typically clear its snow-clogged streets without state assistance.

The scope of VDOT’s responsibilities is impressive. In Fauquier the agency maintains 2,040 lane-miles of roadway. A lane mile is the length of a road at its centerline multiplied by the number of lanes. A one-mile section of a four-lane road equals four lane-miles.

The county is maintained by the VDOT Culpeper District that has responsibility for nine counties; Fauquier being the northernmost. About 50 personnel and an equal number of trucks are assigned to snow duty in the county. Contractors augment the force when conditions dictate.

Planning for an upcoming winter begins in the spring. New snow crew employees are trained, routes assigned and equipment repairs made to assure the fleet is in action-ready mode by fall.

County roadways are segmented into three priority categories:

I-66 and major routes connected to airports, major cities, hospitals and military bases are targeted first. When those roads are cleared, primary roads with route numbers 1 through 599 are the focus of the cleanup. Finally, secondary roads with route numbers 600 and above are plowed.

Subdivisions with route numbers 1,000 and up are included in the third category. As each category of roadway is cleared, plows move on to the next segment. The goal is have all roads cleared within 48 hours of the end of a storm; a target that is often achieved in less time.

One way VDOT gets a jump start on roadbeds is to spray brine on I-66 and primary roads before a storm hits. “The liquid salt spray will only be employed if temperatures are below freezing and a weather system is expected to begin as snow not rain,” said Stacy Londrey, acting communications director with the Culpeper District.

In a heavy snowfall the agency will employ a one lane clearing approach to subdivision plowing. This enables residents to break free from their homes and head to work or go shopping. Hours later the crews return to finish plowing the entire roadbed.

Londrey advises, “The VDOT customer service center number is 1-800-367-7623.” However, she underscores that during snow storms immediate call backs may be difficult to make. Nonetheless, calls to the center will alert field management of possible plowing delays.

Town of Warrenton
The Public Works department is responsible for snow removal of the town’s 95 lane miles. John Ward, superintendent of public works, directs the town’s snow removal. He has a staff of 22 workers assigned to 12 hour shifts around the clock until all roads are cleared.

Eleven pieces of equipment are employed, including six dump trucks with plows and spreaders, one dump truck with a plow and four pickups with plows. One truck is assigned to continuously clear Broadview Avenue.

In addition to the town’s roads, he is responsible for clearing all the municipal parking lots and the access road and parking lot of the Warrenton Aquatic and Recreation Facility.

One tricky challenge his crews face is learning the location of the town’s manhole covers. “Some of the manholes stick up a little and if you don’t know where they are you are going to get a big jolt when you are plowing. After they learn the locations they lift the plow just a touch and go over it,” Ward said.

Sounds like a cavity rattling experience for newbie drivers.

The town has a dispatch center that residents can call with questions about road conditions or status of unplowed roads. “Most citizens are very appreciative of all our snow plowing efforts,” Ward said.

The center is manned 24 hours a day and can be reached at (540) 347-1107.

Easy does it when wheeling in the snow
Compared to years ago, driving in snow has become less challenging. Tire chains and rear-wheel drive vehicles have faded from today’s snowy roads. Four-wheel and front wheel cars and trucks now make getting stuck less likely.

Nonetheless, a bit of skill needs to be employed when the white stuff sticks. Arriving safely at your destination is pretty much a given when you drive with care.

Here are few tips for mastering the white stuff when behind the wheel
*Accelerate and deaccelerate slowly to maximize traction. A deft touch will eliminate fishtailing and skidding off roadbeds.
*Do not use cruise control. Much like the mystics you want to be in touch with your inner car. Reaction times are much quicker in the white stuff.
*Gas your car up when storms threaten to avoid gas line freeze-up.
*Never move the car until your seat belt is securely fasten.
*Create an emergency box in the trunk consisting of a blanket, power snacks, gloves, hat and water. If you become snowbound, remain in your car. Help will likely arrive shortly.
*Don’t stop on hills if you can avoid it. A steady firm acceleration up steep grades will help eliminate spinning tires.
*And finally, consider staying at home until the roads are clear. If you don’t have obligations, sit back in the easy chair and enjoy the winter wonderland from indoors.

Published in the Winter 2016 edition of inFauquier magazine.

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