The caller to my office wondered why trucks were pre-treating roadways with brine, when the weather forecast called for only a little snow and freezing rain. Seemed like a waste of resources, he said. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is responsible for maintaining roadways in Fairfax County, so the question probably should have been directed to his state delegate and senator, although I was not surprised to get the call. Years ago, I had asked a former state delegate how he handled all the constituent calls with just a part-time staffer. With a twinkle, he said “Oh, they don’t call me. They know they can call you!”
It’s often said that local government is where the rubber meets the road; in this case, literally. Although VDOT maintains our local roadways, the Residential Traffic Administration Program (RTAP) is managed by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT). Traffic calming, cut-through restrictions, Watch for Children signs, and Through Truck Restrictions apply to traffic in neighborhoods. Residential Permit Parking Districts (RPPDs), commercial vehicles in residential areas, and Community Parking Districts (CPDs), apply to parking in neighborhoods. In 2015, all of Mason District was designated a CPD, to address parking of watercraft, motor homes, campers and other large vehicles on neighborhood streets. A rigorous community process ensures that all qualifications are met and that there is community support. Information about RTAP and parking programs may be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/transportation/residential-traffic-administration, and at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/transportation/parking.
In recent years, VDOT has taken road maintenance in our busy area much more seriously. A massive, multi-year, repaving program in Mason District will resume this spring (asphalt plants don’t operate when outside temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees, so repaving is suspended during the winter months), and VDOT crews will mobilize to treat roads ahead of the weather. The pretreatment focuses on critical locations such as bridges, ramps, overpasses, and turn lanes, where the road surface can get very slippery very fast. Many drivers still remember the terrifying January experience a few years ago when a rainy forecast worsened into ice, federal workers were released to get home ahead of the storm, and the result was a tremendous foul-up of our transportation system. Traffic choked the roads, drivers ran out of gas, and the gentlest hills became impossible to navigate. Car batteries died, and do did cell phones! A normal half hour trip took six or more hours that night.
VDOT advises that you should assume that any “wet” pavement may be icy. A bridge or overpass can be especially treacherous, since cold air flows above and below the pavement, aiding freezing conditions. VDOT also advises that drivers should make sure that gas and wiper fluid tanks are full, and that you have an emergency kit in the vehicle. Charge up your cell phone; in fact, a cell phone car charger is a handy gadget to have anytime. That silly groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted six more weeks of winter last week, a good reminder to follow VDOT’s advice, and stay safe while on the road.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.