By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A car being uncovered on Water Street on Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nearly two feet of snow fell on


in the week before Christmas during the fourth largest blizzard in recorded history. While the remaining snowdrifts and patches of black ice will melt in the short-term, the after-effects of the storm could be felt for many years to come as City officials seek ways to improve planning for the next major storm. On January 4, 2010, Public Works Director

Judy Mueller

appeared before City Council to describe her department’s response. She addressed what went wrong, and offered suggestions to how the city’s response might be improved the next time a massive storm hits town.

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Some facts from her presentation:

Mueller addressing Council

Mueller said this storm hit very fast and hit at rush hour. Over two feet of snow during the storm. In an average year, Charlottesville gets 17 inches of snow spread out over several storms. Mueller said the City’s equipment is designed to handle 99.99% of expected snow events.“This storm is the .01% that we really don’t have the equipment to handle in a manner everyone would have liked to have seen,” Mueller said. In response to a question from Mayor Dave Norris, Mueller said it would cost the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to purchase the heavy equipment needed to have been fully prepared.

In normal storms, rubber blades are routinely attached to city plows in order to reduce damage to streets. A decision was only made to switch to metal blades when it was clear the roads were packed with ice.

Another major obstacle was the number of abandoned vehicles. Downed trees also stopped crews on some routes, especially if power lines had also fallen. Mueller said in those cases, Dominion Power must inspect the lines before the trees could be cleared to avoid electrocution.

Mueller said other City departments were also busy during the storm.

“One of the things when you have something like this that happens every 13 to 15 years is a tremendous outpouring of employees wanting to help other employees across division and departmental lines,” Mueller said.

Mueller said next time such a storm occurs, the city will take off the rubber blades earlier, will hire private contractors, and will try to do more in advance to keep people off the streets.

“We were really, really hampered by heavy traffic,” Mueller said.

Mueller said her department has repaired 36 potholes in the past week, including 13 on the Belmont bridge alone.


David Brown

asked if the bus routes should have been cleared sooner in order to give pedestrians an alternative form of transportation. Mueller said the

Charlottesville Transit Service

opted to cancel service in the days after the storm in part because it had a hard time getting enough drivers.

City streets downtown were still covered with snow on the Sunday following the storm, allowing for unusual transportation alternatives


Kristin Szakos

called for a volunteer clearinghouse to be set up in order to connect willing workers with necessary projects.

Mueller said Madison House has done that during previous storms, but there were fewer able bodies because the University of Virginia had just ended its fall semester. She said there is a group of volunteers that offer to use their 4×4 vehicles to ferry essential personnel for hospitals and other critically important public services.

One immediate outcome of the storm will be to reconvene the city’s pedestrian safety task force to discuss how sidewalks on key corridors could be cleared faster.


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