Before the Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Mary Cheh, Chairperson
Council of the District of Columbia
October 23, 2020
Virtual Meeting Platform
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004Good afternoon, 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 Timothy Spriggs, our Safety & Security Administrator and Snow Coordinator. We are joined by DPW’s Agency Fiscal Officer, Perry Fitzpatrick.
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 2020 – 2021.
I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to Mayor Muriel Bowser, Interim City Administrator Kevin Donahue, and Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda Babers for their support of the extraordinary employees from across District government who form the District Snow Team.
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;
- 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;
- DC Water and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which also provide plow drivers to support the Snow Team.
HOW WE WORK
The Snow Team consists of 834 employees, including plow drivers, administrative and technical employees. Our drivers clear 4,400 lane 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 152 6- and 10-wheel dump trucks, known as heavy plows, that are equipped with plows and salt spreaders. Our 107 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 13 front-end loaders that will load salt into the plows’ spreaders. Twelve skid steers will clear snow from our narrowest streets. There are 73,000 gallons of our brine and beet juice mixture to spray citywide before precipitation begins, and we can make more to reach our capacity of 86,000 gallons. Finally, our salt domes are filled to capacity with 42,000 tons of salt.
Before snow falls, we will use our 25 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 keeping 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 Snowmageddon-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.
A tactical issue associated with our mobilization strategies for this snow season is the introduction of Streateries to help support the District’s restaurant industry that has been negatively affected by COVID-19. We have asked the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife & Culture to work with the District Snow Team and the DC BID Council to develop a protocol that will allow the Snow Team to successfully clear the streets of snow and ice, while giving the restaurants the ability to be open as long as possible.
The “Streatery Winter Ready Grant Program and Outdoor Dining Guide,” published by the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife & Culture, states that owners are required to clear snow/ice from the sidewalks and outdoor dining spaces. It also advises that Streateries and parklets shall not be used during inclement weather and/or when the outdoor temperature reaches 32ºF degrees or lower.
COVID-19 PROTOCOLS INTRODUCED THIS YEAR
Our highest priority is keeping our team members safe while in the workplace. DPW began acquiring and distributing personal protective equipment to our employees before the first case of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, presented in the District. We also took other steps to protect employees’ health, including installing hand washing stations and incorporating social distancing measures. We are applying what we learned to our snow preparations to protect all team members.
For instance, we introduced a virtual training platform for our administrative and technical team members. Training sessions included Automatic Vehicle Locator technology, quality assurance, safety, logistics, salt monitoring and route review.
Our drivers received hands-on training in snow removal at RFK Stadium where they practiced plowing sand to get the feel of the truck and plow. Of course, training for this snow season is even more important since the team didn’t have any opportunities last year to experience real life situations that could have informed their performance this year.
In FY 2021, we also are spreading out our deployment staging by adding a fifth site where team members will report for a mobilization. Additionally, we are splitting each 12-hour shift into two sections, to reduce the number of people at each deployment site at one time. This also will allow the vehicles to be sanitized before and after each shift is on duty.
We will continue to stay on top of impending weather 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 2021
The snow program evolves from one year to the next as we identify policy, operational and technological improvements to achieve our overall goal of restoring safe travel across the District as quickly as reasonably possible. The health and safety of our residents guide our decision making as we set priorities for the upcoming snow season. Since we did not get to test the improvements scheduled for last year, they are on the menu again this year.
Timing, speed, and technology will work together to improve our snow fighting ability. While we don’t know exactly how winter will shape out, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a substantial snow event in late February with up to two feet of snow possible and another event in March that may leave “significant” snow along the East Coast. On the other hand, The Old Farmers’ Almanac predicted a normal winter. And last week, NOAA reported, “The remainder of the U.S., including the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, falls into the category of equal chances for below-, near-, or above-average precipitation.” Regardless of what happens, we will have our systems in place.
I would like to review with you our FY21 plan, starting with timing.
The first new action 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 25 hot mix dispensing tankers ready to spray our streets once we have a credible prediction of winter weather.
With a record .6 inches of snow last year, our leaf collection crews, who are the backbone of the snow program, had no snow or ice to interrupt their work. But with the additional equipment we acquired last year, we were prepared to quickly switch from collecting leaves to spreading salt. And this year, if we have either a normal winter or if the Farmers’ Almanac’s predictions come true, we are ready.
The additional equipment also speeds up getting back to collecting leaves at the end of a storm.
Keeping up with snow-removal technology is as critical to our success as keeping the salt domes filled. 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. Since the trucks are used for more jobs than spreading salt and plowing snow, we are use the new AVL capability in a variety of operations year-round. Through this same tracking system, residents can go to snow.dc.gov to see where our plows have been.
We also are testing what I call a “smart” spreader. Last year, we installed 21 of these spreaders on our plows. Eventually, all plows will use this equipment. These spreaders will report when in use, 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.
If it had snowed last year, we would have been able to test the six 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. These plows will be used in the deicer pilot test that I will describe later in my testimony.
Another new technology we have will allow our drivers to use their phones to rate the status of their routes by 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. Overall, this technology should accelerate the time to return to routes that need further attention.
We are using 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.
As we noted last year, DPW and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) partnered to have the geographic information system company ESRI, build an Operations Dashboard for Snow. The dashboard is operational and integrates all snow-related systems and visualizes them in one actionable, interactive map for Snow Command and Snow Zone Captains. Collaborating with OCTO aligns common requirements for the Snow Operations dashboard, integrates all pertinent data feeds, and visualizes 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 on District streets and roadways with the use of materials to limit environmental damage.
Another project being carried over from last year is a pilot to 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 (CMA) will be spread on certain commercial streets rather than salt. Each test area consists of three routes in these two wards. The routes span different elevations, so the results from the same event will give a broader picture of how alternatives may perform District-wide.
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, CMA 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 CMA 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.
PREPARATION FOR THE 2020-2021 SEASON
A successful snow season is a team effort that includes the Snow Team, local businesses, and residents. Education is critical to helping everyone get prepared, stay engaged, and practice safety throughout the winter.
Mr. Spriggs discussed the snow program with WJLA-ABC7's "Outside the Classroom", a live daily program designed to help families learning from home, visited DPW to discuss the theme of "Motors and Engines". Hosted by Teacher/Meteorologist Ryan Miller, the show first aired October 8 from 3-4 pm via www.wjla.com, Facebook, and the STIRR App. ABC7 spoke with Deputy Director Michael Carter, Mr. Spriggs and other DPW staff about the variety of trucks and technology used in leaf collection, recycling, and snow management.
Mr. Spriggs’s interview with Rebeka Mena, the host of HSEMA’s podcast, “Off the Record,” aired on October 21. He explained the purpose of Snow Ready Week, what’s new in our plan for this winter, and how the Snow Team is adapting to our COVID-19 environment.
Earlier today, Mr. Spriggs and I talked with local media about this year’s snow operations and what people should expect from the Snow Team.
This month, we will distribute our snow readiness brochure to the public. It features safe shoveling tips, how to apply for the snow shoveling exemption available to homeowners 65 years or older or who have a disability that prevents them from shoveling snow, and other useful advice to prepare their families, homes, and vehicles for winter. Snow.dc.gov is getting new features in November.
On Wednesday, we briefed leaders of the District’s Business Improvement Districts, shared our plans for this snow season, discussed the challenges they face during winter weather, and clarified their services.
Today is the annual Dry Run. We are testing 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 winter.
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. Just go to snowteam.dc.gov for details.
When a snowstorm is underway, we want residents to visit snow.dc.gov to see where the plows are working. There, residents also will find safety tips for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists. The site 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 District 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 safely 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 already have 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 your questions.