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Snow Update From Councilman Tom Dernoga
Feb 13 9:30 AM

From County Councilman Tom Dernoga:

My staff and I are monitoring phone calls to the office (301) 952-3887 and emails to tedernoga@co.pg.md.us . We are forwarding concerns directly to the personnel supervising the snow removal teams. I am getting these emails on my Blackberry - your message is being read and dealt with.

Weather Today: Slight chance of morning light snow or flurries, then decreasing clouds. 33-38. Tonight: Clearing, breezy, and cold. 18-24. | Tomorrow: Mostly sunny. 35-39. (Wash Post)

I am fielding a lot of emails and calls. We are pushing DPWT to make as much progress as possible - although there is a lot of places still needing help. We expect to saw a lot of real progress Thur & Friday and should see excellent progress today/tonight. The mid-30's temperatures, sunlight and salt provided some actual melting.

I didn't get out the planned update yesterday (I started it, but got too busy). I also didn't get to read all emails, for which I apologize, but let me recap what I've been doing and what seems to be getting done.

As you may know from prior updates, I toured various parts of District 1 Monday night when I could get out and Tuesday night. Wed I followed instructions and stayed in during the blizzard (without power).

Thursday, I worked on my update, responded to emails and got a much-later-than-planned survery of the District. I went out at 5pm and stayed out until 11pm. I read and responded to emails to 3am on Friday morning (and I still wasn't done). I got up by 8am and started reading emails and working on the Friday update, but I had to leave to get out to see what was happening based on Thur night's information. I ended up at the Snow Operations Center again and finally came home around 7pm last night. As soon as i finish this update, I will head out for another survey.

My surveys help because the plow/tractor operators and the Supervisors in the Operations Center do not know your communities. They also don't have time to tour large sections of the District for 4-5 hours, and their Snow District goes almost to Bowie, down to the District line in Langley Park/Chillum and includes Glendale. So, I am able to check on your complaints and concerns and bring big issues directly to their attention.

Understanding DPWT Operations (Why haven't we seen a plow?)

The County is divided up into Snow Operations regions and each Region is divided up into Primary Road and Residential Street Sectors. Equipment generally does the Primary Road Sectors first, and then moves into the Residential Street Sectors.

Remember that the County has a lot of smaller plows and a number of big dump trucks with plows, with few front-end loaders or graders (which aren't normally needed). For this storm, with the 24-30 inches over the weekend, the plows could not handle the load. This forced the burden onto the dump trucks (an insufficient number for the need), and even the dump trucks had trouble. Trucks got stuck repeatedly and the constant wear and tear in harsh conditions led to various breakdowns. what is needed in the case of massive snow is digging by front end loaders and using graders. There are very few of these and it took time to get more and get them positioned. There has been a good surge in availability of this equipment since Thurs, so a lot of progress has started to be made.

While many people "never saw a plow" through mid-week or yesterday, there were crews all over the District doing what they could with the equipment they had. For these two storms, when they moved into the Residential Street Sectors, they focused on the main residential arteries in each community to try to get access at a minimal level - in large part so that emergency vehicles could get close to any incident and a plow could be detailed to assist with any emergency. This actually happened on a number of occasions, pulling that plow off of its assigned duties.

After the Primaries and main residential roads were done Sun & Mon, they moved into all residential streets to try to make them "passable". They may not be passable for YOUR car, depending on what you drive. "passable" often really means you need 4-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. however, most emergency vehicles can get through, and that is key.

Some streets appeared to have been skipped either because they are smaller or in corners or were blocked by vehicles - this shouldn't happen, but it has in some cases it did - OR because the residents' self-help made it look passable and the drivers moved on to worse streets. I know someone (maybe you and your neighbors) did something on every street I went to because I could not find any streets with 24+ inches of snow (although I'm sure someone has one somewhere). I did see a number of streets with 8-10 inches of snow and tire tracks made by 4-wheel drive vehicles that I would not consider passable (although I drove them in my Prius).

From Tues through Thur night, as the Primary Roads were put into decent shape, more equipment became available and allocated to this Region. The crews are assigned to a Residential Street Sector and they are going street by street. If you are at the opposite end of the Sector from where they start, it can be awhile before they get to you - this is very time consuming. Also, I have noticed that if they get to your street in sunlight or with a front-end loader, they are getting down to bare pavement in many instances. If they get to you at night or with a smaller plow they are improving on "passable". They will be back to get you to bare pavement as soon as possible. I got a lot of emails yesterday suggesting mid-to-late afternoon plowing due to the melting. The crews are doing that but it may not be in your neighborhood.

Also, passable is often 3-6 inches of hard-packed snow/ice. Passable for the right vehicle in cold weather because its as solid as pavement. With the salt and melting temperatures, the daytime traffic is tearing the ice into HUGE potholes (which then freeze). I know this. You know this. The Snow Team knows this. These streets are becoming impassable and the goal will be to get the streets down to bare pavement or as many bare spots as possible.

What I've Seen Lately

Following up on the last update about my Mon/Tues tour, Wed during the blizzard had the crews out in various areas, but I know I heard reports of plow sightings in Beltsville (along the Montgomery Road corridor), Hillandale and Adelphi, parts of South Laurel (such as Montpelier Woods) and some streets in West Laurel.

Thurs morning and afternoon, i heard a lot of complaints along the Montgomery Road corridor, Calverton and Buck Lodge (and others, but these were large areas in need). I asked to have those areas and South Laurel Drive/Snowden Pond prioritized as soon as possible on Thurs/Fri.

Beltsville

My tour took me through the Bounds/Sweitzer area of West Laurel (bare pavement so it must have been afternoon plowing or a loader), down through Virginia Manor to Ammendale (still in good shape), over to Powder Mill and down to Josephine (lots of justified complaints). I had promised to visit Cardinal & Hartford, so I did. And, I got stuck. A neighbor pulled me out (thank you!) and I headed out Sellman to Montgomery. Clearly, that area of Beltsville needed big work. I had already put on a lot of pressure to get trucks in that area and I knew that there were some working around Brandon/Josephine etc., and that there were more along the Montgomery Road corridor, but there was a lot of work to be done. I went northwest on Montgomery to the end and turned around (Montgomery was unacceptable as a major residential street). I checked out some side streets and while "passable" in the broadest sense of the word, they really needed more work - especially the very hilly south/west side of Montgomery.

I went down Route 1 (not as good as it should have been) to Cherry Hill Rd (which had been a disaster earlier in the week). The front end loader cleared up Cherry Hill very nice. I went up to check out Sellman Estates (moderately passable, but starting to deteriorate into potholes). From there, I went up to Allview Estates real fast where I had heard about impassable roads (technically, they were passable, but one could certainly argue). I headed down Riggs, through Forest Hill/Green Forest and Wooded Way (passable, but tough on the hills) to Adelphi and back up Riggs.

Adelphi

My blackbery had emails about Buck Lodge. I checked it out and it was worse than anything virtually any of you have seen. 8-10 inches of frozen snow with two tire tracks all the way through. I took it in my Prius but I have no idea how i made it through - It was scary and I was expecting to have to yell for help. I put Buck Lodge on the priority list for Friday and called it in to the Snow Operations Center. From there I checked out parts of White Oak Manor (a lot of bare pavement streets, but some bad side streets and cul-du-sacs (passable, but not very). I then hit Hillandale and found a huge front end loader clearing the virtually impassable Towhee/Phoebe entrance section. I went down Phoebe and it was 8-10" of snow/ice with two tire ruts. again, it was scary but I barely got through. There some trucks in Hillandale trying to clear up that sector before moving on. Many of the Hillandale streets were in pretty good shape, but there were still some places needing work.

Calverton

I headed back up to Calverton because I had started to hear about it being impassable. I checked out the south side (Chapelview/Craiglawn) and it was in good shape. Then I went up Greenmount and checked the side streets. It was Buck Lodge all over again. I had a very scarey run through Dunnington and I bailed out on Castleleigh because I didn't want to try the hill up to Briggs Chaney. I had asked for plows out there, but they hadn't gotten there, so I called it in again and let them know that whatever they had thought ... most of Calverton was impassable and needed major equipment immediately.

Beltsville Again

I stopped back in Beltsville and saw that Cedar Lane had gotten pretty clear and that Howard looked pretty good. I went down Cardinal the other way and found someone stuck at Hartford. I got out and spoke with the residents and helped push the car out. I then went up Josephine (I swear there was a plow there at Brandon), headed out Brandon to Howard and came across another car that just couldn't get up the hill by the Elementary School because it had no traction. We pushed that out and I went up to Montgomery again and took it to Powder Mill. I found a dump truck laying salt, so I followed it over to Beltsville Heights and checked that out (passable, but terrible).

South Laurel

I then decided to wrap up the evening over in South Laurel. I needed to check on South Laurel Drive and Snowden Pond. On the way, I checked out Bedford (passable, but getting potholes - a few bare streets) and Montpelier Hills (ok). The big equipment was taking the previously impassable South Laurel Drive and making it look great. I confirmed that they were next going to Snowden Pond and then Montpelier Woods. So, i went to both and checked them out (passable, but terrible).

On the way back home, I swung through Snow Acres. The ring streets were very good, even some bare pavement. however, the connecting streets (Dub and Mark Place) were terrible.

I got home around midnight and worked on emails until 3am.

Friday, first thing I called in to push for Buck Lodge, Calverton, Beltsville, Mayfair and some smaller areas that had been missed. I also had Alex Hirtle, my Legislative Aide, camp out at the Snow Operations Center instead of working from our office in order to get more accurate info

Calverton

Then, I decided to go down Old Gunpowder to Franklin Farms (largely bare pavement except Blackpool). Then, I headed over to Calverton (really, really bad) to see if the equipment was there. They told me it was but I didn't see it. I went down Powder Mill to Cherry Hill and checked out Allview. I didn't go on all the streets but what I saw was largely bare pavement, so it looked like they had cleaned it up as I had requested. I went down Cherry Hill to Starbucks to download your emails and confer with DPWT. They had me run down to Largo, drop my Prius and finally get a 4-wheel drive.

Beltsville

I came back to Beltsville to find that Route 1 was a parking lot. More lanes and turn lanes needed SHA! :-)

I cut through Tonquil and Usange (passable, but deteriorating and rough with the hills) and headed up Montgomery to Powder Mill. Montgomery was still unacceptable (one lane in spots) and the side streets on the southwest side still were tough because of the hill (passable doesn't work on an icy hill). I drove into a couple of streets, but it really needed work. I headed down Powder Mill to Beltsville Heights (formerly passable was deteriorating quickly.

Vansville

Then, I headed to a meeting at the Snow Operations Center in Glendale. I and other Council members met with the Director and talked about communications and what needed to be done to get all streets up to a usable condition. Afterward, I headed up Kenilworth/Edmonston to Vansville. Cordwall and the streets around it were terrible - arguably "passable" but the deteriorating ice made it ridiculous. I check North Creek Farms - good - and went up Ellington to Muirkirk. I checked out Longwood. Some streets were pretty good, but most were formerly "passable" that had deteriorated into a mess.

From there, I went up Virginia Manor to Mayfair which had been waiting for a front end loader for days. The loader had come, but it broke down. Mayfair Road was still terrible, but Mayfair Drive had a fair amount of bare pavement.

I called it a day and headed back for emails.

As soon as I get through some emails and check out status of last night/this morning, i will go do another tour today. I know that I need to find the last hot spots AND to check out those formerly "passable" streets that have melted into moonscape.

Look for me. I'm in a County-marked 4-wheel drive and I will stop to talk. Just be nice. A little.

What about Tom's Street?
I know a lot of people suspect political figures get their streets done first. I know better. I took a photo yesterday morning as evidence. My street is also "passable", but has a few bare spots down further from my house. I know a plow or two has come through because I've seen the evidence. But no front end loader, no bare pavement, etc. I can get out with my front wheel drive Prius, so no special treatment needed.

Since Saturday, all i have done is SNOW 24-7. It's what is expected and it is what should happen. Things are definitely slower than anyone would like. I don't control the plows or the operations. But, i have a duty to make sure that your problems are addressed and that DPWT knows what you are seeing. I believe that i am obligated to get out in the streets and see the situation first hand. In addition, since DPWT does not have time for neighborhood-level communications, it is also my role to try to tell you what is going on and what to expect. My staff and I are doing our best to keep you informed and to make sure that you get usable streets as soon as possible.

Tom Dernoga, Chair
Prince George's County Council (District 1)
(301) 952-3887