‘Every Storm Has its Challenges’

‘Every Storm Has its Challenges’

City of Fairfax prepares in advance for snow removal.

Because last winter was so severe, the City of Fairfax had to remove a larger amount of snow and ice than it had anticipated. Staff cleared nearly 40 inches of snow, costing $502,000 and causing a drain on city resources.

To avoid a repeat of that situation, staff is proposing some recommendations so Fairfax will be better prepared for such harsh conditions. Street Superintendent Willis Shafer, who oversees the snow-removal operation, presented the plan during a recent city council work session.

“Last year was difficult – every storm has its challenges,” he said. “But we now have 18 vehicles that can treat and plow [the roads]. Once the snow gets more than 2 inches in depth, that’s when we start plowing.”

“Our crews leave their families and work 12-hour shifts, and I was extremely proud of them last winter,” continued Shafer. “But there was a lack of salt in February, difficulty in getting more and six more weeks of snow ahead, so I decided not to salt then.”

“We’re really geared up for a 6-inch storm,” added Director of Public Works David Summers. “More than that is very challenging.”

MAYOR Scott Silverthorne said he thought the city snow-removal crew did an “excellent job. But the decision not to use salt in one instance caused problems and people were upset about it. So we just need to be thoughtful about it, going forward. And people need to be patient and understand that snow-plowing takes time.” To Shafer, he said, “You all have a tough job to do, and we thank you for it.”

During Shafer’s presentation, he said the goal is to have all city streets passable within 24 hours of the end of precipitation, although extreme weather conditions may extend this time. Although the city manager may declare a snow emergency once a winter storm warning is forecast, a snow emergency is immediately in effect once 3 inches of snow have accumulated on city streets.

The city clears more than 160 lane miles of roadway, as well as critical sidewalks, bus stops and shelters and provides access to Fairfax facilities and their parking areas. Priorities are given to the following, primary routes, followed by subdivision streets: Fairfax Boulevard/Lee Highway (Routes 50 and 29), Chain Bridge Road (Route 123), Old Lee Highway, Main Street (Route 236), Pickett Road (Route 237), Jermantown Road (Route 655) and the CUE bus routes of Warwick Avenue and Draper Drive.

Workers pre-treat the streets with salt brine to create a barrier between the road surface and the snow/ice layer. City staff makes the brine and uses 13,000 gallons of it to treat all 160 lane miles of roadway one time.

In light snow, less than 2 inches, crews spread salt on all routes, and a sand-and-salt mixture only when temperatures drop below 20 degrees. If more than 2 inches accumulate, the primary routes are plowed and retreated, followed by the remaining subdivision streets. Once the storm has stopped, plowing continues until all streets are passable.

However, residents must all do their part. Cars shouldn’t be parked on the street during plowing or other snow-clearing operations. And property owners are asked to clear the snow from their driveways and sidewalks. Snow should be piled to the right-hand side of the driveway facing the street.

“Regarding sidewalk clearing, it’s particularly important where children stand and wait for a bus or need to walk [to school],” said Councilwoman Janice Miller. “What can we do to encourage neighborhoods to keep their sidewalks clean?”

CITY MANAGER Bob Sisson said City staff would take her question under advisement. Residents were also urged not to clear their driveway aprons until the plows go through. During snow events, they may call Fairfax’s snow desk at 703-385-2629.

Meanwhile, Shafer is already implementing some improvements for 2014-15. “We’ve increased our manpower from 12 field personnel up to 20, and we’re evaluating the use of GPS technology to every field vehicle,” he said. “We’ve added two, additional field supervisors to direct plow-and-treatment operations, and we’re adding two plows to the residential zone and [more] trucks to subdivisions at the onset of each storm. We’ll dedicate two trucks to each zone.”

Shafer also planned to conduct more training for his staff prior to the winter season. “We have to relearn snow removal every year,” he said. And he wants more citizens to cooperate during snowstorms by parking their vehicles in their driveways, rather than on the streets.

He’s further proposing that, when snow volume exceeds 6 inches, the city may call in a subcontractor to help, if needed. The added resources will be assigned to the primary roads.