Backup on I-95

Southbound Interstate 95 traffic at a standstill on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022 near Dumfries. The highway was shut down for 36 hours, trapping thousands of drivers for nearly two days. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation doesn’t have enough snow removal contractors to properly respond to major winter storms, according to audit results released Tuesday.

The state Office of the State Inspector General found several VDOT districts lack the resources to effectively clear snow, meaning serious storms “have the potential to be crippling unless assistance from other parts of the state can fill the gaps.”

“In the event of a major statewide storm, VDOT would not be able to keep up without hiring equipment at costly rates and potentially accepting contractor equipment when that equipment has not been inspected or properly insured,” the 15-page audit report said.

VDOT didn’t dispute the finding, the report said, and agreed to participate in a “brainstorming session” about how to address the issue. Possible solutions recommended by state auditors include calling up other state employees with commercial driver’s licenses to assist with snow removal or training more VDOT staff on how to plow snow even though it may not be part of their regular duties.

Snow removal contractors in Virginia are required to have their equipment insured, the audit said, and “additional requirements” have weakened contractor interest. Those rules include workers’ compensation insurance and automatic location-tracking devices on snowplows.

The audit began as a response to an $11 million bribery scandal related to snow removal contracts that led to a former VDOT supervisor being sentenced to seven years in prison. The inspector general’s office is conducting a separate review of the state’s response to the January snowstorm that caused an overnight shutdown of a lengthy portion of Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia.

An after-action report on the Jan. 2-3 snowstorm indicated that all VDOT districts were “appropriately mobilized based on the weather forecast” but acknowledged that resource shortages, including “COVID-19 impacts to contractor staffing,” became an issue as the crisis worsened.

The new audit report identified contractor shortages in five of the six VDOT area headquarters it reviewed.

“A sufficient number of contractors is not available to complete snow plans,” the inspector general’s office concluded.

The agency is expected to come up with a corrective action plan by the end of the year.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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(1) comment

Joe Homas

Forcing State employees (who are NOT provided hazard pay and receive only a nominal per diem) to perform in these dangerous conditions is an act of supreme cowardice on the part of VDOT management.

Current policy requires VDOT employees, with very few exemptions, to work twelve hours shifts, frequently over a period of several days. My longest assignment required me to be away from home for ELEVEN days.

To even consider forcing non-transportation-related State employes to perform these duties exhibits a callousness and disregard for employee safety (and the Public's) that is hard to comprehend.

If a snow event truly becomes an "emergency," the Highway Commissioner or Governor should declare it such and call upon the Virginia National Guard to assume clearing and recovery duties.

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