The Virginia Department of Transportation is gearing up for what is expected to be an “average” winter storm season, with about 14 to 16 inches of snow projected over the course of the winter.
The agency will be testing out some new innovations in Northern Virginia this year, including a camera system that was specifically designed for VDOT. The cameras, mounted to look behind the trucks, will take images of the road condition after plowing. Drivers will also be able to use them as backup cameras.
“I think this is really where the future is, to be able to look at the road and see not only if it has been plowed, but is it the right treatment,” said Branco Vlacich, VDOT Northern Virginia maintenance engineer.
VDOT is testing the cameras, which are specially designed to keep them clear of snow and slush, on six trucks this year and may expand their use in the future.
The idea is that these cameras ultimately will work in tandem with the VDOTplows.org website, which allows residents to check the status of plowing in their neighborhood, by adding images from the cameras to the map.
All of VDOT’s contractors in Northern Virginia now have automatic vehicle locator systems that allow the public to map plowing efforts, as well as allowing the agency to better track the progress and dispatch trucks.
“It tells us where every truck is that is out there and assigned to a site,” Vlacich said. In the case of an emergency like a fire, “we will know the closest truck to the incident and can dispatch it,” he said.
The agency also has some new equipment this year, including a new snow melter to use in park-and-ride lots, where big piles of plowed snow block parking spaces. Other equipment acquired in the last couple of years includes high-pressure flush trucks to clear snow from the 495 Express Lanes and a truck-mounted weather station that provides mobile measurements of weather conditions and the road surface, which helps ensure that crews treat the road surfaces appropriately.
There is also a new “super-sized” salt storage dome at Interstate 495 and Van Dorn Street that holds 186 tractor-trailer loads of salt.
“Everything about Northern Virginia is mega,” Vlacich said.
VDOT has 126 of its own trucks and 4,000 contracted trucks for snow removal in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. The snow removal budget for Northern Virginia is $63 million.