NEW KENT – The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has had its challenges keeping secondary roads clear in rural areas like New Kent County, where many impassable roads forced the schools to close for three days last week.
“The frigid temperatures over the last couple of days have helped keep ice on the roads, especially in shaded areas,” said VDOT Communications Coordinator Lindsay LeGrand in a phone interview Friday.
“The salt is less effective in 15-20-degree weather, and the water has been refreezing.”
VDOT reported Thursday that primary roads in New Kent were clear, and secondary roads were in “minor condition,” meaning that the majority of the pavement had been cleared but icy patches could remain. The hazardous secondary road conditions prompted Del. Chris Peace to contact VDOT Richmond District Administrator Thomas A. Hawthorne Thursday night.
“I am writing today to register my disappointment in the condition of secondary roads in New Kent after this second season snowfall,” Peace wrote in the email. “Generally New Kent's secondary roads have been largely untouched.”
“Schools there are having to close again tomorrow while the rest of the world works. Parents of school aged children are angry and impatient (understandably),” he added.
New Kent County Schools were closed Wednesday through Friday of last week.
"When we have all 3,000 students and 400 staff members who are all unable to go to school because the condition of the secondary roads are so bad that we can't put school buses down them, that is not minor to me," said New Kent School Superintendent Dr. "Rick" Richardson, Jr. in a phone interview Monday.
"In my seven years here, this was VDOT's weakest effort to clear the secondary roads that I've ever seen."
Board of Supervisor and Transportation Safety Committee member Ron Stiers also emailed Peace and Hawthorne and, like Richardson, said that many neighborhoods, including The Colonies and Patriot’s Landing, were “half-heartedly” plowed.
Thursday night, Stiers visited The Colonies, and like many of its residents, was unable to get out of the development because of an icy hill.
“I was told by VDOT that they’re doing all they can do,” Stiers said in a phone interview Friday.
“I’m not disappointed in VDOT’s response, I just feel like they could have done better.”
According to LeGrand, plowing the secondary roads can be difficult for VDOT due to the narrow roads.
“Our snow plows are 12 feet wide and are hard to maneuver on narrow roads, especially with cars parked on the side of the roads,” said LeGrand, who encourages residents to park in their driveway or in a car park area during snowstorms.
“Our approach today and through the weekend is to take advantage of some sustained warming to remove ice through plowing on the lower volume roads and neighborhood streets,” Hawthorne wrote to Peace Friday morning.
“I am certain that there will be significant improvement today and tomorrow.”
“Unfortunately, that doesn't help with the school situation today and I completely understand the frustration with the number of missed days over the past couple of weeks,” he added.
Richardson said that these lost instructional days "hurt students" and "made a mangled mess of the school's calendar."
"Somebody has to stand up and be held accountable for it," he said. "It shouldn't have come to correspondence with a local delegate and member of the General Assembly in order to get the appropriate response to clearing the roads, in my opinion."
According to LeGrand, VDOT is not only currently clearing roads, but also preparing for possible snowstorms next week.
The department is replenishing its materials and is ready in case a third round of snow hits.
“We’re good to go and will be ready to respond if anything falls,” LeGrand said.
Richardson expressed concern that should the area face more wintry conditions VDOT should do a better job of clearing the secondary roads.
"I just want to ask them, 'Can we please not repeat the same mistakes'?" Richardson said.
Residents can report icy road conditions to the 24/7 VDOT customer service line at 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623).
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.