Fairfax Co. leaders want to fix blizzard mistakes

WASHINGTON — While Fairfax County leaders have good things to say about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s response to last month’s blizzard, they’ve raised a number of concerns to be addressed at a “snow summit” in March.

“Compared to ‘Snowmageddon,’ where some county residents were trapped – some of them without power in their homes for up to a week – I think VDOT’s response to this storm was excellent, but there are still lessons to be learned and practices that can be improved,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova.

As a result, the board has invited VDOT, school and police officials to the “snow summit,” scheduled for March 1.

Supervisor Linda Smyth said VDOT’s online plow tracking map was “worthless,” and wants to look for ways to get heavier equipment in sooner the next time there’s a massive storm.

“VDOT would send out the guy in the pickup truck with a blade attached to the front, who could not possibly manage the snow,” Smyth said. “And it ended up with that guy in the pickup truck, stuck or leaving a barricade of the snow that just could not be pushed.”

Supervisor Kathy Smith said her neighborhood wasn’t plowed until Tuesday.

Intersections and sidewalks were piled high with snow, which contributed to the Fairfax County school system being closed all week.

“I think the schools absolutely made the right call in being closed,” said Supervisor Jeff McKay. “It’s a lot more complicated than just the sidewalks right around the school.”

Bulova and other supervisors say the importance of clearing sidewalks in the county has increased dramatically, even since the Blizzard of ’96, as parts of the county have become much more urban.

“VDOT has improved so much since ‘Snowmageddon’ — night and day in its response — and we need the same thing before the next storm when it comes to what we do with sidewalks,” said Supervisor John Cook. “It’s going to have to be a collaborative effort: citizens, county, business, schools VDOT and whoever else.”

Mt. Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said some new developments never got plowed because the roads haven’t been turned over to VDOT yet.

“These are folks who were waiting much as everybody else was, waiting to have their street plowed, and in some cases the developers did not provide or make arrangements to have those streets plowed,” Storck said.

The former school board member said that while VDOT’s response was better than in past storms, the sidewalk shoveling and other snow clearing efforts could be vastly improved to help schools open sooner.

“No one likes the fact that schools were out a week, that frankly is not something that we want to be doing long term. That’s not good for our kids,” Storck said.

Other issues raised for the summit: intersections where snow piles forced drivers to inch out into traffic, and lanes that suddenly disappeared into snow piles.

There were major positives, though: The power stayed on for most of the population and the snow melted as the days got warmer.

“I had far more compliments than complaints, which is one of the first times I’ve ever had that happen during a snowstorm,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity.

“The people that kind of go underappreciated in these snowstorms [are] the repairmen and the tow trucks that are out during the storm fixing this equipment.”

Fairfax County residents with feedback or questions they would like addressed at the “snow summit” can email Chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.


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