On June, 22 2022, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) released a performance audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Snow Removal process. The report found that sufficient contractor resources are not available to assist the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for snow removal. This is problematic as without sufficient removal resources, major snowstorms have the potential to be crippling unless assistance from other parts of the state can fill the gaps. However, in the event of a major statewide storm VDOT would not be able to keep up with removal without hiring equipment at costly rates and potentially accepting contractor equipment that has not been inspected or properly insured. VDOT has committed to addressing these issues with OSIG and relevant stakeholders and implementing corrective actions by December 15, 2022.
OSIG performed this audit in response to the 2018 prison sentencing of the former superintendent of VDOT’s Burke Area Headquarters for participation in a bribery scheme that brought in $11 million over five years. According to the audit, OSIG planned the audit of snow removal operations for the 2019-2020 snow season. However, the lack of snow for the season forced OSIG to suspend the audit temporarily. OSIG resumed work in August 2020 and made updates to planned audit procedures for the 2020-2021 snow season. After completing the updates, OSIG concluded that conducting the audit during the COVID pandemic would not be practical and any value the audit produced would be limited without reviewing normal snow operations. As such, OSIG suspended the audit until August 2021.
VDOT is responsible for the maintenance of all interstate, primary and secondary roads with the exception of those in Henrico and Arlington counties. For more than 20 years, VDOT has relied on contracted equipment with operators, often referred to as “hired equipment,” to supplement state forces in each of its nine districts. VDOT’s Maintenance Best Practices Manual requires the Department to plan for and attempt to promptly and efficiently treat and remove snow and ice from all highway systems or make them passable as soon as possible. This is considered an emergency activity and is intended to maintain roadway assets while ensuring the safety of the traveling public and year-round use of the state highways without undue delays.
The audit concluded that some of reasons for insufficient contractor resources available to VDOT include requirements imposed upon contractors such as workers’ compensation insurance and automatic vehicle locator (AVL) monitoring devices. These requirements have caused a reduction in the number of contractors interested in meeting said requirements. The audit’s recommendation is for VDOT to find a balance between having sufficient resources and working with acceptable levels of risk. The audit also examined and made recommendations on the subjects of improper insurance verification, validation of contractor equipment, and central filing of snow plans.
As previously reported, when snow removal cannot keep pace with a winter storm, dire results may ensue such as what occurred during the I-95 Snow Incident of January 3-4, 2022. OSIG is conducting a related audit to the I-95 Snow Incident and will release the results of that audit in a separate report. VACo will provide updates as they become available and has offered to support relevant state agencies in their endeavors to improve the Commonwealth’s response capabilities to major weather events.
The full audit from OSIG can be accessed here. More information from VDOT on snow removal may be found here.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett