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Jan. 4, 2022 — Lessons from a first snow

Last evening, I drove home after picking up some groceries. Since I knew there was going to be a snowstorm of some kind today, I picked up more than I usually would.

I do remember one interesting thing from observing the roadways heading home. You didn’t see the white lines on the pavement indicating that the road had been pretreated.

Part of the lessons learned from a 1999 snowstorm that hit the East Coast was that, before the first snowstorm of a given season, you had to make an effort to try to treat the roadway with salt or brine so that the sodium, aluminum, and chloride atoms would be wedged in crevices in the asphalt.

During that December 1999 snowstorm, it took three hours to take a 15-mile trip (trust me, I did it). Since then, you’ve seen numerous highway crews getting out ahead of snowstorms pretreating roadways.

That, however, was a lesson which was seemingly forgotten in Virginia today. A 48-mile stretch of interstate roadway was allowed to ice over with anywhere from two to four inches of ice, along with a 14-inch snow pack which rendered conditions impassable for thousands of motorists.

As a student of public administration, it’s a lesson in pro-active vs. reactive management. Though I’ve heard all manner of justification as to why the Virginia Department of Transportation didn’t put down a layer of saline on the roadway, the fact remains that crews were not on the road in the numbers needed to deal with a snowstorm ahead of time.

Instead, the Commonwealth of Virginia chose to be reactive. And, as it turns out, woefully late in managing the situation.

Thankfully, nobody was injured or killed because of the traffic conditions. I’ve seen these kinds of weather events result in fatalities.

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