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State highway officials plan to improve interstate snow removal in Southwest Virginia this winter by changing contractors and increasing incident supervision, aided by GPS tracking devices that pinpoint the location of plows.
Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Transportation fired its previous interstate maintenance contractor, Infrastructure Corporation of America, for what VDOT called snow-related lapses along Interstate 81 and several other major roads.
In the worst incident, scores of motorists spent the night of Dec. 18 stuck on stretches of snow-clogged 81.
While the state and Tennessee-based ICA are still discussing the resolution of the case — which cost ICA two five-year contracts worth $56 million — ICA is no longer working in the region.
Sean Connaughton, Virginia secretary of transportation, said an effort to find a successor to ICA fell behind schedule, leaving VDOT responsible for snow management.
VDOT has hired several contractors to handle major highways and non-interstate roads in the region, including Carroll and Grayson counties. The contractors will be under VDOT supervision.
This time, instead of leaving contractors in charge, VDOT will supervise, agency spokeswoman Heidi Underwood said.
In addition, GPS tracking technology will allow senior VDOT officials to remotely monitor plowing. They'll also keep in touch by radio.
Crews working in 12-hour shifts will tackle the roads with salt, salt mixed with gravel, and a blend of salt and calcium chloride.
Saltwater, known as brine, will be used to pre-treat roads before they get clobbered.
"We are as prepared as you can be prepared," Connaughton said Monday.
VDOT has a statewide goal of making all roads passable within 48 hours of the end of a storm.
Resources include a statewide $115 million budget, 2,900 personnel, countless contractors and 8,000 pieces of equipment.
The budget is larger than last year's allocation of $94 million, which proved insufficient. The state ended up spending $250 million, Connaughton said.
Marla Graff Decker, Virginia's secretary of public safety, urged residents to begin winter-weather preparedness.
Winter-weather plan basics include a family meeting spot, food and water, artificial lighting (but not candles) and a radio with extra batteries.