Public Roundtable and Hearing on The District’s Snow Removal Operations Plan for Winter 2019 – 2020
Director, Department of Public Works
Before the Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Mary Cheh, Chairperson
Council of the District of Columbia
Good morning, Chairperson Cheh, members, and staff of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. I am Christopher Geldart, Director of the Department of Public Works (DPW).
With me today is DPW’s Agency Fiscal Officer, Perry Fitzpatrick and our Snow Team Coordinator Colonel Timothy Spriggs.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear today to testify on behalf of the District Snow Team regarding the District’s Snow Removal Operations Plan for Winter 2019 – 2020.
I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to Mayor Muriel Bowser, City Administrator Rashad Young, and Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda Babers for their continued commitment to improving the District’s snow and ice removal program.
THE DISTRICT SNOW TEAM
DPW leads the District Snow Team with support from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) for clearing our streets of snow and ice. We also receive support from multiple District government agencies, including:
- The Department of General Services (DGS), which clears snow/ice from around municipal buildings;
- The Department of Corrections (DOC), which provides personnel to clear snow/ice from pedestrian bridges;
- Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), which provides coordinative activities for DC government agencies responding to winter storms,
- Serve DC, which coordinates volunteer snow shoveling services to homeowners who are seniors and/or living with a disability;
- And, several other agencies.
HOW WE WORK
The Snow Team consists of 834 personnel, including plow drivers, administrative and technical employees. Our drivers clear 1,100 miles of residential and commercial streets as well as the National Highway System. These roadways include I-295, I-395 and major streets such as Georgia Avenue, NW; Pennsylvania Avenue, SE and NW; South Dakota Avenue, NE; Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Alabama Avenue, SE; and M Street, SW. When we deploy, residential routes are treated simultaneously with commercial routes.
Our snow fleet consists of 221 6- and 10-wheel dump trucks, known as heavy plows, that are equipped with plows and salt spreaders. Our 147 smaller trucks, Ford 550s, are used on narrow residential streets and they, too, are equipped with plows and spreaders. These are known as light plows. We have available 16 front-end loaders that will load salt into the plows’ spreaders. Twelve skid steers will clear snow from our narrowest streets. There are 86,000 gallons of our brine and beet juice mixture to spray citywide before precipitation begins. Finally, we have 29,000 tons on salt on hand and an additional 15,000 tons immediately available through a purchase order.
Before snow falls, we will use our 24 liquid dispensing tankers to spray streets and highways citywide with our “hot mix” of brine and beet juice. This mixture has proven effective in lowering the temperature at which snow and ice bond to the pavement.
Protecting bicycle lanes has become a higher priority as more citizens use bicycles as an alternative, and even primary, mode of transportation. The Snow Team’s four Ventrac vehicles and our Non-Motorized Trails Section are dedicated to keep bike paths, bridge deck sidewalks, ADA ramps at intersections, and bus shelters clear.
The District has three basic mobilization plans for snow events that range in severity from a possibility of precipitation to a Snowmagddon-style blizzard.
The lowest in severity is a Prowl Deployment of 30-35 heavy plows on bridges and overpasses. A forecast of a light dusting calls for a Partial Deployment—that is, 43 heavy plows and 30 light plows. And, for half an inch or more of snow, we initiate a Full Deployment and use 93 heavy plows and 76 light plows.
The 2019-2020 snow season will be unmatched in terms of hours of training, improved technology and community engagement. We are on track to meet our goal to provide classroom and driving course training to all snow team operators. Our training sessions included Automatic Vehicle Locator technology, quality assurance, safety, logistics, salt monitoring and route review.
We will continue to stay on top of impending events using the Road Weather Information System (RWIS) for air and pavement temperatures, as well as other weather data. Through the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS), we have access to regional traffic monitoring, construction, and real-time incident reporting that affects traffic.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN FY 2020
The snow program evolves from one year to the next as we identify operational and other improvements to achieve our overall goal of restoring safe travel across the District. The health and safety of our residents are uppermost priorities as we make our plans. Timing, speed, and technology will work together to improve our snow fighting ability.
The first new action we are taking is citywide application of our “hot mix” of brine and beet juice before snow begins falling. The hot mix lowers the temperature at which snow and ice can bond with the pavement. By expanding its use, we expect to reduce the amount of salt we use. This year we have 24 hot mix dispensing tankers ready to spray our streets once we have a credible prediction of winter weather.
The faster we can switch out of our daily jobs to snow duty the better. For years, we and our residents endured the difficult transition to snow duty for our leaf collection crews who are the backbone of the snow program. In the past, our Fleet mechanics had to remove the leaf vacuum from the plow truck and replace it with a salt spreader. Often this operation took days to complete. But no longer. For the first time, District residents will not have to wait for their streets to be cleared of snow and ice while we transition from leaf collection to snow removal. Today, we have all the plows we need so that all our drivers have to do is switch trucks. This also is helpful at the conclusion of a snow storm as we resume collecting leaves. Again, all the drivers have to do is get the keys to the leaf equipment and go to their routes.
The Snow Team is backed up by an increasing amount of technology that gives us more control over operations, equipment use, and costs.
We introduced an upgraded automated vehicle locator (AVL) system and installed devices in all vehicles in the snow program. Through AVL, we track all vehicles on the street. Starting this year, tracking becomes more certain with the use of new AVL equipment. Through this same tracking system, residents can go to snow.dc.gov to track where our plows have been.
We also are testing what I call a “smart” spreader. This year, we have installed 21 of these spreaders on our plows. Eventually, all plows will use this equipment. The spreaders will report when it is in use, its location, and the amount of salt being spread per lane mile. This acquisition has significant environmental and budgetary implications. For the first time, managers will be able to track in real-time the use of salt during a winter storm.
Additionally, we are testing new plows that can pre-wet salt to help it stick to the street. This is especially useful in the beginning of a deployment, when we lay an initial layer of salt. Dry salt doesn’t stick to dry pavement very well, so this should help us keep more product on the street.
Our drivers, via their phones, will be able to rate the status of their routes using the “Survey 1,2,3,” app in real time. This information will be reviewed by the Zone Captains and our Service Verification Teams for validation.
We are using new software, known as Mapillary to photograph our completed routes as well as an upgraded “Collector” application, which lets us know when those routes were completed and by whom.
Looking to the future, DPW, DDOT and Office of the Chief Technology Officer are partnering to have the geographic information system company ESRI, build an Operations Dashboard for Snow. The dashboard will integrate with all snow-related systems and visualize them in one actionable, interactive map for Snow Command and Snow Zone Captains.
Collaborating with all three agencies will align common requirements for the Snow Operations dashboard, integrate all pertinent data feeds, and visualize the information into a dynamic, actionable dashboard for Executive Leadership.
DEICING PILOT TEST WILL BE CONDUCTED
We also are stewards of the environment, so we balance the goal of restoring safe travel with the use of materials to limit environmental damage.
This year we are implementing a pilot project to test and evaluate a potential method to reduce the use of salt, which can be toxic to aquatic life and cause damage to our infrastructure. The pilot will be conducted in sections of Wards 4 and 8 where calcium magnesium acetate will be spread on certain commercial streets rather than salt. Each test area consists of three routes in these two wards. This test is being conducted with the assistance of the Department of Energy and Environment.
I would like to note two factors that make this test useful. First, calcium magnesium acetate can be used as we already use salt. There is no need for new, specialized equipment to spread it on our streets. Nor, do we have to provide additional training to staff who will either load the product into the spreaders or the drivers who will spread the product during a storm.
The trial will reveal how well calcium magnesium acetate compares with salt in terms of effectiveness, amount of product used, and cost. The value of salt is its effectiveness in melting snow and ice and its low cost. So, we will develop a cost/benefit analysis of how well calcium magnesium acetate performs. The results will shape our decision making for future purchases of either product.
LAST WINTER SEASON
Now, I would like to review briefly last year’s performance that was guided by Mayor Bowser’s commitment to a rapid and efficient response to snow events to ensure safe and passable roadways and restore the city to normal operations as quickly as possible.
We met that charge last year, starting with an earlier-than-expected snow event on November 15, and ending with our final snow event on March 7. During that time, the District experienced 16.9 inches of snow (9% above the historical average), with the majority of that (11.5 inches) falling on January 13 and 14 of this year.
With 15 snow events—roughly half requiring full deployments—last winter was recorded as the District’s sixth snowiest season in 20 years. To keep our 153 primary, secondary and light plow routes safe, the DC Snow Team utilized over 400 pieces of equipment, 23 tons of rock salt, 25 gallons of brine, and 855 staff.
The total cost of the 2018-2019 snow season was $8.3 million.
PREPARATION FOR THE 2019-2020 SEASON
Preparations for this snow season began almost immediately after our final snow event.
In April, DPW led the Snow Team in an After-Action meeting to review the performance of our operations, logistics, technology, and risk management efforts. We also focused on the effectiveness of our public information messaging.
A successful snow season is a team effort that includes the Snow Team, local businesses, and residents. Education is critical to helping residents stay prepared, engaged, and safe throughout the winter season. We issued our very first press release regarding the 2019-2020 snow season in the weeks before DC students returned to school to remind residents that preparing their families for snow season is just as important as preparing their children for the school year.
We want residents to continue to make this mental connection much in the same way firefighters connect the beginning and end of daylight-saving time with when residents should check their smoke detector batteries.
This month, we will mail brochures to more than 109,000 households that receive DPW trash and recycling collection services, providing tips to prepare their families, homes, and vehicles for winter season.
Last week, we briefed leaders of the District’s Business Improvement Districts where we shared our plans for this snow season, discussed the challenges they face during winter weather, and clarified their services.
That same day, we made a presentation at Seaton Elementary School in northwest DC, where we discussed snow readiness with students and encouraged them to be part of their family’s winter ready plan.
Our annual Snow Dry Run was Friday, November 1. The Dry Run gives the Snow Team an opportunity to test our equipment, strategies, and technology involved in a typical full deployment. Each sub-team proceeds with their operating procedures as they would during an actual snow event. I encouraged everyone to test the system to see where it breaks so we can fix it before it snows. That way we can achieve a successful winter season.
This year’s event allowed us to update our snow route map books, identify areas of concern, receive driver feedback regarding equipment and routes, and to identify any missing Emergency Snow Route signage.
After evaluating the results of the Dry Run, I am confident that we are prepared for the “Polar Coaster” the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting for this winter, which includes fluctuating but colder-than-normal, temperatures in the Northeast, and a good amount of snow, rain, and sleet.
As we clear streets, the Snow Team simultaneously measures the effectiveness of our operations. To ensure routes are plowed effectively, our Service Verification Teams fan out across the city, monitoring road conditions and verifying our plows’ progress.
A successful snow season takes a village. Residents and businesses play a critical role. In accordance with DC law, we ask all property owners to clear their sidewalks within 24 hours after a storm ends. Walking is the primary means of transportation for our children making their way to school and for many adults making their way to work. For seniors and people with disabilities, an exemption from shoveling is available.
DPW continues to manage the sidewalk shoveling exemption program for homeowners who are 65 years or older or who have a disability. We ask eligible homeowners to call 311 for more information and to enroll in the program.
I also encourage residents to join Serve DC’s Volunteer Snow Team, which helps clear sidewalks for our seniors and residents with disabilities, at servedc.gov.
When a snow storm is underway, we encourage residents to visit snow.dc.gov to see where the plows are working. There, residents will also find safety tips for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists. The site also explains what happens when a snow emergency is declared and lists the snow emergency routes where parking is prohibited.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Committee with testimony on behalf of the DC Snow Team.
Clearing our city’s streets and public facilities of snow and ice is essential to the District’s ability to conduct business. Our work is critical to public safety, ensuring that ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles can get where they need to be. We must make sure school buses can get our children to school safe and on time. District residents are relying on us, and we take our duty seriously.
I thank the DPW team as well as our partners in other District agencies for the work we have already completed to prepare for this year’s winter season. I also want to express my appreciation to the unsung heroes of the snow program, our Snow Team’s families who make significant sacrifices while their loved ones are on snow duty. This concludes my testimony. I am happy to respond to questions.