ISSUE: Why Doesn’t the City Buy Enough Equipment to Plow Every Neighborhood During a Snowstorm?

​FACT: To reach all 2,500 miles of neighborhoods immediately following a winter storm, the City would need about $45 million worth of trucks.

snow plow being loaded with sandSnow plows are task-specific, expensive pieces of hardware. Each one costs about $150,000 and the City would need 300 additional trucks, for a grand total of $45 million, to meet this tall order. And that price tag doesn’t include any fuel, 3,600 tons of mix material (such as salt and sand), and the 600 employees needed to operate each plow for 24 hour shifts.

It is important to understand the conditions under which plows are effective. For example, plows are usable only when there is more than two inches of snow on the roadways, and they can’t plow ice at all. And we can go whole seasons without any snow or ice at all. It’s entirely possible that our hypothetical fleet of plows will sit unused for years at a time. Where we would store and maintain these plows during the weeks we don’t have any snow is yet another consideration.

Plowing neighborhoods is also not practical. On street parking and narrow streets are a recipe for damage, as we saw during a snowfall in March 1980, where about 13 inches of snow fell. The governor at the time, John Dalton, sent in the National Guard to assist with plowing efforts, and they were assigned neighborhood streets.

The Public Works department was flooded with calls and complaints: broken side mirrors, cracked windshields from flying gravel, and cars and driveways were snowed in. According to Public Works, no winter storm since has generated as many complaints as the one time they cleared neighborhood roads.

When inclement weather threatens, the City treats bridges, overpasses and roads with a combination of abrasive materials such as salt and sand, and brine solutions, depending on conditions. When the snow stops falling, plows are deployed if the amount of snow allows for it. The aim of the City’s snow and ice control operations is to have a road surface that is passable for safe winter driving, and allow for emergency services and public transportation to safely operate. 

Of course, Mother Nature usually helps with snow clearing efforts, too. Temperatures typically rise above freezing 24-48 hours after a winter event, melting away any winter wonderland. 

For more details about the snow removal plan, including plow routes and removal zones, please visit VBgov.com/snow​.

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