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VDOT'S Work is Far from Over

More Snow Compounds Winter Woes

Ralph Benner hasn't seen much of his home in Stafford, Virginia, the past week or so. As the Transportation Maintenance Supervisor for the Mount Vernon district, he has been kept busy with snow removal, ice treatment, pothole repairs and other road issues.

"I'm leaving early and getting home late," said Benner, thankful that he has a four-wheel drive so that he can go back and forth.

VDOT crews worked two sets of 12-hour shifts through last Friday clearing snow and treating icy roads. Benner said that they're now working as two-man crews to handle ice complaints and to repair potholes.

"We have numerous potholes and some of the worst are on the older roads, such as Huntington Avenue," said Benner. "We try to fill them temporarily and then document the hole so that we can come out and fix them permanently."

Now, as more snow was forecast for Northern Virginia, at least 6-10 inches worth on top of the 16 inches a week ago, area residents have just about had it with Old Man Winter.

Neighbors on Danton Lane in the Waynewood subdivision called VDOT last Saturday to tell them about a large pothole. Within an hour, Benner responded and assessed the damage. He contacted one of his crews, who arrived and did a temporary fill and marked the hole with barrels. A permanent fix is expected this week.

Benner said that they are also working on fixing the snow equipment that broke during this past storm.

"We want to be ready to go for the next round," he said.

Most residents of the Mount Vernon and Lee districts where able to navigate in a reasonable amount of time after the blizzard of 2003. But not all. That was the assessment of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland.

"I had three communities which had not even seen a snow plow by Tuesday morning," he related. "I got a call from a Mrs. Fortis in the West Grove/Villamay area saying I should come see just how bad it was."

Hyland explained, he got in his vehicle and went to her area where, sure enough, nary a plow had ventured. "That's when I got on the phone to VDOT to find out just what was going on," he emphasized.

"They brought in a plow [last] Tuesday afternoon and had it cleared by Tuesday night. It was the biggest plow I have ever seen. When I went back at 5 A.M. on Wednesday they had cleaned that area the most I have ever seen done in any storm," Hyland said.

VDOT GIVES THE supervisors' offices a number to call if they have any problems. All calls on that number go directly to the maintenance shop, according to Hyland. "Constituents also have our office number they can call. I also gave many my cell phone number," he said.

But Hyland's office only received nine calls from residents during the duration of the big storm and clean up period. "Since we also give out VDOT's number maybe people went directly to them," he speculated.

The other community in Hyland's district that had clearance problems were Marlan Forest and Collingwood. His efforts on their behalf also got them operational in short order. Each of the affected areas abut the river along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

LEE DISTRICT Supervisor Dana Kauffman reported that the only problems they experienced were in areas where there was some confusion as to who had responsibility for a given street. "Some questions arose as to whether a street was the responsibility of the developer or the state," he said.

"In one case the street had been turned over to the state two years ago. In another, the street were still in the hands of the developer. So, we got on the phone and had them get busy clearing," Kauffman emphasized.

Overall, Kauffman assessed VDOT's response as "a good job" and they responded relatively quickly. "There was a lot learned in 1996 and it paid off," he noted. There had been no significant flooding in his district as of last Tuesday afternoon, Kauffman confirmed.

As for the various service organizations in the Mount Vernon area, the storm had little impact on their operations. Laura M. Derby, programs and office administrator, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, said "Our only operational impact was we were not able to have church services on Sunday."

But she confirmed the other service activities proceeded as usual. "We were making sure that people had shoes and gloves and other essentials throughout the storm and its aftermath," Derby said.

United Community Ministries was able to keep everything operating, according to Joy Newland. "Even though many of our people come by bus, the storm didn't seem to have an adverse affect. But, they do keep Fordson Road, where we are located, well plowed," she observed.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department experienced no unusual occurrences in the Mount Vernon area during the storm or immediately after, according to Dan Schmidt, department public information officer. "We did have several incidents in other portions of the County but the Mount Vernon area came through uneventful."

STUDENTS ACROSS Fairfax County are doing their best snow dance, hoping the forecasted snow lthis week is enough to close schools for at least two more days.

Under Virginia law, said Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech, if there are 10 snow days, five will be forgiven. Fairfax County, as of Tuesday, was at eight.

The School Board is considering ways of making up the time that has already been lost, just in case the county does no hit the 10-day mark.

The remainder of the school calendar has one make-up day left, April 7, and extends the school year three days, if needed. At this point, that leaves the school system one day short.

Options discussed at a work session Monday, Feb. 24, included extending the school day an extra 30 minutes, most likely beginning in March and running through April; or to find an extra day, either at the end of the year, take one from spring break or use Memorial Day.

"We can pray for snow," Domenech said.

Various board members expressed their interest in extending the school day rather than take away anymore holidays. The board members favored adding the extra time in order to give students enough instructional time before having to take the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or end-of-course Standards of Learning exams, none of which can be rescheduled. Domenech said that extending 13 days by 30 minutes is equal to about one full school day.

Reporter Jennifer Lesinski contributed to this story.