The view from Interstate 95 near Exit 137.8, south of Fredericksburg, where New York resident Alison Bradshaw was stuck with her family. (Alison Bradshaw via Prince William Times)
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.
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