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Snow Removal Incites Mixed Emotions

With a plow mounted on the front of his Chevy Suburban, Lorton resident Eric Shaw was expected to do the impossible in the snowstorm of 2003. Shaw worked with J&S Services, which contracted out to homeowner associations and property management companies around Springfield for snow removal. He heard a lot from homeowners.

"They try to give you directions," Shaw said. "They think you can do things that trucks can't do."

Although the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was the main player in the three-pronged snowplowing assault that seemed to span the month of February, the state agency contracted out some of the responsibilities. Eighty percent of the work was contracted out, according to VDOT spokesperson Ryan Hall.

VDOT's plowing performance generated mixed feelings. One of the biggest problems VDOT had was meeting the citizens expectations, according to Hall. Cleaning up the large amounts of snow was compared to past snowfalls where only about three inches fell.

"The expectations of our residents was the biggest challenge," Hall said.

Burke resident Kathryn Quan expressed disappointment.

"They need to get off their [rear ends], stop eating doughnuts and do the side roads," she said after the big storm on Sunday, Feb. 16. "They really, I don't think, aren't doing a good job."

Springfield resident Ann Eul was happy with the plowing on Sydenstricker Road where she lives, but thought residents could help out with the sidewalks.

"I think they've done a great job," Eul said. "We had a top loader come down Sydenstricker. The sidewalks have to fall on the homeowners. We can't expect the county to do everything."

Eul wasn't aware that the county is not responsible for snow removal, which is a frequent misconception, according to Norm Byers, staff assistant in Supervisor Elaine McConnell's (R-Springfield) office. Virginia is the third largest road system that is maintained by the state, behind Texas and South Carolina, according to Hall.

"We're getting e-mails, we're getting calls," Byers said. "The answer is, 'Sir, we don't do snow removal.'"

Although VDOT does not shovel sidewalks or driveways, there is no state requirement for residents to do so, according to Hall. Localities have their own rules concerning that and have to enforce it on their own.

"That's the responsibility of homeowners," Hall said.

Fairfax County spokesperson Mernie Fitzgerald said there was no ordinance on shoveling sidewalks, but it is encouraged.

VDOT SALT-and-sand truck driver Dennis Zedek heard the comments from bypassing cars "once in a while," he said.

After the Feb. 16 snow, he drove the first truck that motorists saw when they were heading south on Rolling Road. The team — which consisted of his truck with lights flashing, a truck with a plow, and then a bucket loader — tackled a turn lane and a spot where a lane just disappears, causing motorists to make last-minute lane changes.

"You give the public the most warning," Zedek said. "It gives them ample opportunity to move over. Some people are just in a hurry no matter what."

Zedek tried to maintain some dedication to the effort, which ran 24 hours a day, every day, since the snow fell on Sunday, Feb. 16.

"We work 12-hour shifts," Zedek said. "It's starting to get tiring. It's all part of the job."

Snowstorm after snowstorm made that work schedule common for many plow drivers. When there was a break in the snow, workers abandoned the plows and formed pothole-filling teams, until the next storm came along.

"They've been working 12-hour shifts since Feb. 9.," Hall said. "We go right to the potholes."

VDOT SPOKESPERSON Joan Morris has been on the receiving end of complaints as well.

"We are getting calls from people that say they have not seen a plow," she said. "It can get very frustrating. That's why we work around the clock."

Around the clock wasn't good enough for some, though. Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) noticed that the snowplow operations were good in some areas and not good in others after the big storm.

"We've gotten close to 300 calls," Bulova said. "In some areas, VDOT did an outstanding job," like North Springfield and parts of Kings Park West, but "some [people] were still trying to get out of their cul-de-sacs," such as Burke Centre and Lake Braddock South. I finally called Tom Farley [VDOT]."

The situation was the same in Lee and Springfield Districts.

"Mountains of calls from people," said Jeff McKay, chief of staff in Supervisor Dana Kauffman's (D-Lee) office. "It's taken longer to clear all the roads."

"They shouldn't be blaming anyone," said Steve Edwards, McConnell's staff assistant.

FARTHER NORTH, where snowfall is typically heavier than in Northern Virginia, municipalities spend more on their snow-removal efforts. Their efficiency is attributed to more trucks and manpower, dictated by need. Carl Anderson, who lives in West Springfield, is originally from New York. He noted the price the public pays up north.

"Their taxes are substantially higher there [New York]," he said. "They pay more for everything."

"I think people realize this is not Buffalo," Morris said.

Bulova mentioned Buffalo as a benchmark as well.

"Not only do they have higher taxes, they have more snow," Bulova said. "I think the taxpayers would object if they saw us buying a lot of expensive equipment and it sitting there for a year when it didn't snow."

On Thursday, March 13, the Fairfax County Public Schools will decide on their plan to make up the snow days. Extending the day by 30 minutes is one plan, and using a teacher workday for classes as well as extending the year by one day is the other option.