The findings of an audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s snow removal process found that the agency does not have sufficient contractors to assist in heavy snow removal.
The report by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG), covers the snow season in the following areas:
- Salem District’s Christiansburg and Blacksburg area headquarters (AHQs) for Jan. 15-16
- Salem District’s Hanging Rock and Southwest AHQs for Jan. 28-29
- Fredericksburg District’s Chancellor AHQ for Jan. 15-16
- Fredericksburg District’s Gloucester AHQ for Jan. 21-22
It does not include the snow event on Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg that happened on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, which saw hundreds of people stranded for several hours and put traffic to a standstill. OSIG said that it is conducting a related audit on that snow event, and the results will be published separately.
Last April, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, VDOT and the Virginia State Police requested an after-action report on their decision-making and actions during the weather event on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4.
Shortage of contractors
“We are working with OSIG to address the issues noted” in the performance audit published last week, VDOT spokesman Marshall M. Herman said in a statement. This audit, which was halted twice due to lack of snow and the COVID-19 pandemic, was conducted in response to a VDOT employee’s involvement in a bribery scheme that resulted in a prison sentence in 2018.
Herman said on Tuesday, VDOT kicked off planning for the upcoming winter season.
“A topic of conversation during the workshop included placing an additional focus on securing adequate resources for the snow season,” Herman said.
When the mobilization category is at levels 4 and 5 — levels that require higher resources — audit investigators found shortages in five of the six areas reviewed — the Chancellor area headquarters in the Fredericksburg District and the Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Hanging Rock and Southwest area headquarters in the Salem District.
“A sufficient number of contractors is not available to complete snow plans,” the report said. And without enough resources, “major snowstorms have the potential to be crippling.” The report said that this could continue to be a problem “unless assistance from other parts of the state can fill the gaps.”
The report also said that VDOT would not be able to keep up without hiring costly equipment and accepting equipment that has not been inspected or properly insured.
In addition, additional requirements for contractors, such as workers’ compensation insurance and automatic vehicle locator (AVL) monitoring devices, have led to a “reduction in the number of contractors interested in meeting these requirements.”
“Signing up contractors for winter weather is a continuing process. As with every snow season, VDOT signs up contractors from June to November. VDOT is currently going through the process of soliciting and hiring contracts for the 2022/2023 winter season,” Herman said.
One of the audit’s proposed solutions is using state employees from other agencies who have commercial driver’s licenses or training other VDOT staff to operate equipment during snow events.
The audit also found that VDOT failed to obtain and verify contractors’ insurance coverage before the equipment was used to remove snow.
A Fredericksburg Infrastructure manager told investigators that errors were made in filings of the documentation. OSIG’s follow-up with the insurance company found that four vehicles had no coverage and two had coverage that was not documented.
Another finding showed that VDOT equipment had limited to no validation of trucks reporting for snow removal services. Validating equipment is part of VDOT’s “Maintenance Directive: Standardized Winter Operations Planning and Execution,” which establishes the “mobilization and demobilization process for snow removal equipment.” This includes checking items, such as vehicle identification numbers, insurance and tags.
Investigators were told that spot checks are performed in one district but there was no large-scale checking.
Districts should submit their snow plans no later than Dec. 1, according to the “Maintenance Directive: Standardized Winter Operations Planning and Execution,” but the audit found outdated plans.
The Fredericksburg District Infrastructure manager told investigators that the plans sometimes change because vendors are not signing up on time. Or sometimes, VDOT gets incomplete documentation which causes contractors to miss the deadline.
And even when they do miss the cutoff, “the area headquarters has to continue to work with vendors past the deadline to get enough equipment. Otherwise, there would be additional equipment shortages,” the report said.
OSIG concluded that, except as identified in the report findings, internal controls, as they relate to the audit objectives, were operating properly. According to the report, VDOT agreed with the audit’s findings and recommendations.
“VDOT appreciates the work and accepts the outcome of OSIG’s review and the recommendations based on their audit and will couple findings from this report along with findings from reviews of the January 2022 snowstorm in order to meet our mission objectives,” Herman said.
Macauley Porter, a spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said in a statement, “The OSIG report indicates that additional resources are needed for snow removal and the administration will ensure adequate resources are available for all future snow incidents.”