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Virginia facing snowplow driver shortage, audit says

Although summer just began, the state is already looking a couple seasons ahead to prep for what commuters will face on the roads come winter.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Virginia commuters beware: a problem is afoot on the roads of the Commonwealth. This winter season may be a tough one to drive through if the roads can't quickly be cleared - which could be the reality if the state doesn't hire more snowplow drivers.

The understaffing concern was highlighted in a report released June 22, which detailed the Office of the State Inspector General's findings of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s snow removal process. The process is deemed an emergency activity by the department, as untreated roads in poor conditions can lead to harrowing situations.

RELATED: Report details what went wrong when snowstorm led to standstill traffic on I-95 in January

The office also noted an issue with VDOT conducting improper insurance verification and found little to no validation of equipment by the department.

The office said that the full audit was performed in response to an event in 2018 where the former superintendent of VDOT’s Burke Area Headquarters was sentenced to prison for an $11 million bribery scheme. The former superintendent allegedly used his position to accept bribes in exchange for giving lucrative snow removal work to local trucking companies during winter storms in northern Virginia, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

VDOT is currently responsible for maintaining all interstate, primary and secondary roads with the exception of those in Henrico and Arlington counties.

The office noted that additional requirements for workers have made it harder to hire them, such as ensuring they have workers' compensation insurance and automatic devices that help track the trucks in the midst of winter weather.

"VDOT has experienced a reduction in the number of contractors interested in meeting these requirements," the audit report reads, specifying that, without sufficient resources, major snowstorms have the potential to be crippling unless assistance from other parts of the state can help fill the gaps. 

"In the event of a major statewide storm, VDOT would not be able to keep up without hiring equipment at costly rates and potentially accepting contractor equipment when that equipment has not been inspected or properly insured," the report said.

The office highlighted a number of recommendations to rectify the issue, including encouraging VDOT to consider using state employees from other agencies who have commercial driver’s licenses. The office also suggested training VDOT staff who don't usually operate equipment to do so during snow events. 

They also offered to have a post-audit brainstorming session with VDOT representatives to address the outlined concerns.

Based on the findings, VDOT management said that they plan to implement corrective actions by Dec. 15, 2022, the report specified.

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