Digging out: U.S. 29 open, but tricky driving

route29A stuck truck, Saturday morning on 29 southbound.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

2:59pm update: new slideshow from Western Albemarle. (previous slideshow).

According to a new release from Albemarle County spokesperson Lee Catlin sent a few minutes before noon, officials allege that Route 29 South–- utterly closed since early moments of the snow storm Friday–- is now open for its entire length into Nelson County, but Catlin's release warns that conditions are still very challenging and residents are discouraged from driving "except when absolutely necessary."

At some point, people will start asking why Central Virginia's major north-south thoroughfare–- a road so important that millions of dollars have been spent studying ways to make its traffic move faster–- could have closed when just three inches had fallen and then stayed closed for more than a day and a half.

"We'll look at this incident as well as everything else that happened during the storm once we get through it," says VDOT spokesperson Lou Hatter. "Right now we're trying to get the roads open."

Hatter says he knows of no other Charlottesville area primary road that remains closed, though he notes that Interstate 81 has had some blockages southwest of here.

As previously reported, the Route 29 stoppage created a multi-mile queue that induced snow-capable cars to turn around but left other cars and practically all  truckers trapped.

Read more on: snowsnowfall

53 comments

Can't blame the high snowfall for the bad roads as others have noted and I can attest too. Other jurisdictions are handling it much, much better. Have been over in Staunton since Friday and just ventured out for the first time. Black top everywhere maybe only one lane anywhere--and it was a left turn one--which was still a little covered.

And we got nailed here too. 20 inches by 7 Saturday morning. Perhaps of note, the plows never stopped running Friday night. Heard at least five passes Friday night, pretty impressive for a side street way far away from any major road.

first off, give them a break... this kind of storm is rare!!! in the mid80's the city only had 1 plow TOTAL until we got a storm that shut down mail service for a week. Most folks on my street had to borrow my shovel since we don't get enough snow to even own one. I didn't even have a sled to take to Suicide Hill!
1993, 1996 we saw huge storms... but is it really worth having a budget for a ton of salt and sand when it happens only about 1 time per decade? Get real city resident: at least Robert VanWinkle would have told us to stock up on food and snow supplies a week before.

fairview, when you total up the economic loss from this storm, due to folks stuck at home, unable to go to work or shop, I'll bet, even you will agree, it's wise to have enough sand and salt on hand, or readily accessible.

You say the City needs sand, dredge the reservoir. Heard tell a story, by the guy who owns Blue Ridge Sand, that they had a sand dredging operation down by the New River and a huge snow storm hit North Carolina. They needed sand in the worst way and so the trucks from their dredging operation hit the road and saved the day. Just think how much sand we could get and how much money we could save --we wouldn't have to buy it !

I thought this discussion was about highway 29. Not sure what the National Guard can to about clearing snow. As far as helping emergency services the Virginia Army National Guard has about 600 soldiers on duty helping citizens of the Commonwealth. We don't complain about the orders we receive so don't feel inclined to complain for us. As for VDOT they have not cleared my road but I'm sure the workers in those trucks are exhausted and would like to go home and dig out their own families.

Looks like we have a 50-75% chance of seeing a white Christmas. Amazing to contemplate that by Friday this could all be gone--don't think so
East Central U.S. White Christmas Probability Map
Will you be waking up to a winter wonderland this Christmas?

This map shows the probability of having at least one inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning.

http://www.weather.com/outlook/homeandgarden/holidays/?region=ec

Look at VA511. http://511virginia.org/Conditions.aspx?r=3

Albemarle stands out as the only area in the state where ALL the roads are "severe" or closed. Waynesboro got 32" and they have cleared roads. Northern VA got exactly the same amount of snow and they managed to get their roads clear, and their challenges are several orders of magnitude bigger than C'Ville's.

Stop making excuses for VDOT incompetence. The other regions have managed to clear roads even though more snow fell there.

It's not the weather, it's the personnel. Specifically, it's the management.

Heads should roll for this debacle.

I agree all my kids in Northern Virginia are at work, streets clear. What gives here ?

You can only work with the tools, (and "tools"), that you have to work with.

Then again, no one around here can drive in the rain either........

Caesonia,
Having lived in Nelson County for almost thirty years - the way they do it is to concentrate on 29 South which is the major road through the county - other roads wait until 29 is cleared. Charlottesville and Albamarle County have more areas to concentrate on. The storm started earlier than anticipated and moved quicker - how does VDOT contend with dozens of cars and trucks blocking the roads ? We would always like a speedy return to normalcy, but give VDOT a break - this was a monster storm. By the way, I totally agree with you on the National Guard.

why is there still a jeep or whatever still blocking 29??!!

The VDOT district manager for Culpepper is Mr. James Utterback.

I suggest that we all email him to ask why his area manager for Albemarle County has so far been unable to effectively discharge his duties.

Mr. Utterback's email address is: James.Utterback@vdot.virginia.gov

Augusta County is now reporting all secondary roads are clear and passable.

Out here in Albemarle County we are running out of food waiting for the local VDOT manager to pull his thumbs out of his rearend and get the roads clear.

The local manager needs to be sacked immediately and replaced with someone capable of doing the job. It would also be nice if the surrounding regions could loan us some plows and drivers to finally rescue all the people stranded in the rural areas of the county.

What gives is that despite the accurate and timely forecasting, the VDOT crews in this region were caught totally flat-footed.

I drove up here early Friday morning from Blacksburg, and from there to Waynesboro VDOT crews were out on the road, staged for the storm. The roads had all been pre-treated with deicing agent and plow/dump trucks full of grit were everywhere. On this side of the mountain, there were no such preparations. There were no trucks, no road treatment, nothing.

The VDOT crews here likely became trapped by the storm due to this inexcusable delay in mobilization.

When a storm of this magnitude hits you can't wait until it is over to start scraping the roads. The snow will be too heavy to move at that point. You have to get out early and scrape continuously so that you don't have to try and push two feet of snow all at once. The reports of broken and abandoned VDOT gear littering the highways would seem to bear this out.

I was living in DC for the blizzard of '96 and this is exactly what happened back then. VDOT sat on its hands and waited for the snow to quit, only to find that they couldn't get their drivers in to the equipment yards or the equipment out of them. Getting behind the storm resulted in it taking them over ten days to dig everyone out.

I thought they had learned from that fiasco, and to be fair, most of them apparently have. It's only the Albemarle regional manager who seems to have been unaware of the lessons learned from '96.

Please Bison Girl, don't continue the hurtful and mistaken renaming of the great beast of the forests and plains. Buffalo go not on these shores. It is the noble bison. I ask in the spirit of healing that we award the worthy Mr. H. Spencer the Bison Award. I hereby clear your credentials and will allow you to move forwards with that honor.

Go StormTeam Hawes!

Lack of emergency preparedness is no one's fault but your own. Every home should have extra batteries, candles, few gallons of water, canned and dry goods stashed to accomodate at least for a week.

Dozens of VDOT trucks laying on the side of the road, 64, 29, 250--just heard Corbin Snow say, they have a snow removal business and they started with 6 trucks and are down to 2 --parts breaking under the weight of this snow, and not easy to get parts in this area of the country.

Laurel please refer to my comment under the Dozens Stranded headline. The stay off the road comment refers to anyone not accustomed to AND properly prepared vehicle. The character and personal choice of your comment reflects that you are most certainly not one of these said individuals and should most def stay the fu&$ off the road. Even if it ain't snowing.

I agree, there was plenty of warning. It has been four days since the snow ended, shovel your walk, dig your car out, stop complaining.

I would like to know why it was like driving into a different world when I hit the Nelson County line. What did the Nelson VDOT do that Albermarle VDOT missed?

I just put up a new slideshow of pics of stuff in Western Albemarle. See link at story top. Sorry I didn't go back to North Garden today. Gotta get some sledding in.--hawes spencer

quote: "We’ll look at this incident as well as everything else that happened during the storm once we get through it,” says VDOT spokesperson Lou Hatter. ââ?¬Å?Right now we’re trying to get the roads open.”

TRANSLATION: "Give us a few days to come up with some good excuses for our poor performance please!"

Really I can drive around all of the roads in Greene In like 6 hours in good weather, and that is up down and around every bend, but VDOT with over 100 trucks can't even get the main roads clear, beyond one lane, I wonder if they don't sub the work out, then the guys who are getting paid go do private work then after they are finished actually plow the roads vdot pays them for.

To the guys and gals at VDOT and Dominion Electric - thanks for a great job in terrible conditions. It seems as though many people expect the impossible after an event like we just experienced.

No, but we do expect a major road like 29 south to be open --what an embarrassment, VDOT blew it.

Dave,

I think there have been some real challenges, such as encouraging stupid amounts of growth for the benefit of developers, causing small roads to arry too much traffic.

I imagine that the plows did have to deal with stranded vehicles.

But 29 south is a MAJOR highway. Like, the old cumberland gap highway, the only path down through central VA. That road is one of the THE focuses, and it speaks volumes that a small county like Nelson did its duty, but wealthy Albemarle did not. Maybe that's because instead of focusing on the more important infrastructure, they like to spend a lot of time trying to push trhough stupid projects over reservoir pipelines that we don't need.

No we haven't had a lot of snow over the last 5 years, but we DO get big dumps like this still, and we do get ice, and this winter was predicted to be a snowy one for the mid-atlantic.

Gee, i wonder how much of the national guard is unable to help medical personnel because they are still stuck overseas in a war we are supposed to be exiting.....

I agree Berkley, the coverage from StormTeam Hawes has been phenomenal. If you look at all the other coverage in the area, no one was driving around and producing the broad coverage given in these slideshows and reporting --don't know how this guy does it, he must have a staff of thousands. And so, as I did in another post, I have awarded Mr. Spencer the " Buffalo Award", for best storm reporting. Even Jim, has verified my credentials to bestow this honor, and I thank him.

Video of Route 240 in Crozet -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Vo-KdPHRmA

You really want to see just how badly Albemarle County VDOT performed today without leaving the comforts and relative safety of your own homes? Simply checkout the 511 VA website. (http://www.511va.org/Conditions.aspx?r=3)

The Cville area is the only region in the state with these types of reported road conditions. Someone please try to explain this away...

It is international news that albemarle county was the epicenter of this storm. Just like nelson county was for hurricane cammile.

VDOT requires a huge insurance rider before you can get on theblist to be a subcontractor. So a lot of guys don't do it becuase being on the list only guarnatees you a job in a storm like this.

Maybe the hook should investigate this....

quote: "It is international news that albemarle county was the epicenter of this storm. Just like nelson county was for hurricane cammile."

I was wondering about that. Makes sense. And I seem to recall reading somewhere that the Virginia State Police reported Charlottesville as being the major trouble spot for their troopers. I guess it includes Albemarle County somewhat when they say "Charlottesville".

The current snow will still be on the ground Christmas morning.

We are in the North Garden area and live on Rt.29..VDOT has been doing their job the best they can..but, there are cars stranded everywhere! Even this evening (Sunday) from Trading Post Store North to I64 there are 45 cars, 5 tractor trailers stuck either on the side of the road and some are actually in the lanes! Two of the cars were upside down! Last evening, Saturday, according to an update we heard there were 75 tractor trailers stranded from I64 to Nelson County Line. They simply couldn't move the huge rigs..they can't get up the hills with a small amount of snow much less the amount we got. They were taking up so much of 29 that the State Trucks simply could not do their job. We actually saw two trucks that stayed on the road from Friday nite until this morning, Sunday and only moved after they got a nudge of help from a local logger with a skidloader! So, as much as VDOT can do things to make us nuts, this time we need to bear with them since this is not the usual Virginia snow..here today, gone tomorrow. I am not a huge fan of some of the things I see VDOT do, but, this time, I have to say they have been trying to clear it up! ..And by the way, we measured 26" in our yard..but we have had some wind..but we are sure it is over 24".

Both the character of this storm and personal choice played a major role in the impact on 29 south. I was in town at 4:00. I made the classic (and bad) decision to buy "bread and milk" and found myself stuck for 25 minutes in Barracks Road alone trying to get out and on to 250. In this amount of time, precipitation increased, and before I was at the turn off for 708 (approximately 7 miles south on 29), almost 90 minutes had passed, and 3 to 5 inches of snow had fallen. I made it off 29, but I sat on 29, panicking, for a loooonngg time . . . and I was one of the lucky ones who slept in a bed that night. The storm overwhelmed the drivers who were on their way home from work or shopping, and had anyone attempted to plow, they would have been out of luck - it was 5:00 in central VA and we haven't had a storm like this for 14 years. Oh yes, I am kicking myself for my purchases. My car remains stuck on a rural road, and I just learned tonight that someone ran into it. Snow is pretty but it is a pain in the arse. I cannot (and will not) blame people for this event. I'll just make sure to collect insurance info.

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"The public works department has gone through a lot of salt and sand in this storm and the city has ordered more."--report from chn29

Guess that's why the side streets are a mess. There is no excuse for not having the salt and sand needed. This ain't Florida, storms happen.

Guardsman - By no means was i saying anything negtive about the Guard. This is the sort of event you guys are here for. in past similar blizzards in the area, the Guard has been wonderful about making sure that technicians, nurses, and physicians could get to the hospitals to do their work. they also made sure people had food and shelter. My point was, how much has the Guard been hurt in their ability support such operations because of overseas rotations.

That's all.

Dave - I am not really banging on the VDOT perse. Obvioulsy they were able to do it in Nelson. albemarle is a big county, but it has no more primary focuses than Nelson, unless you include 250 by-pass. So, what, they have four lanes of 29 through North Charlottesville?

I remember the blizzard of 96, and they absolutely kept 29 open and running.

I think it warrants investigation because it will probably give peopl a real look at the sort of development shenanigans that are going on, and the real cost of all this growth to the country just to make a few develpers very rich. As a kid you would have never found 20S littered with cars like this time.

There may be plenty of explanations, but I think there is no excuse for VDOT's poor handling of this storm. And, given the amount of tax increase and cost of living increase we've seen in Virginia - and THIS crap alongside the 'extra' millions that VDOT has been using as a reason to bulldoze and bully (with the help of some traitor city administrators) their McIntire parkway through is particularly galling. The McIntire Parkway, which will not REALLY help our traffic problems, which are primarily rooted in the unbridled development that has been allowed. I'd be inclined to feel more sympathetic to VDOT if not for the McIntire situation. I think that some of you make good points bringing up past heavy snows and VDOT's relatively successful handling of them, and for this very inefficient handling of what is certainly an incredible, yet very accurately predicted storm. This such a crucial time for so many businesses, which are struggling anyway, that it seems there would have been an extra effort made to clear and keep clear the main roads, and since that was so poorly done, that there should be some consequences. I really do hope, and expect there to be some apology to the taxpayers.

More people, more cars, since 1996, but that doesn't mean VDOT shouldn't be able to keep major roads cleared after 2 days. I still think budget cuts are a part of this, fewer workers, trucks, even the City has run out of sand and salt.

By keeping people at home, unable to drive, because city streets haven't been plowed or not in any condition to drive on, the City has assured businesses of fewer sales and themselves fewer tax dollars, seems that investing in enough sand and salt would have made sense.

Fairview - No i am not giving the VDOT crews in Albemarle/Charlottesville a break. Sorry. Everybody else had their crap together.

The reason is the county and city spending lots of time getting all dug into petty things like flattening neighborhoods by rezoning houses for crap businesses, unecessary water plans, and the McIntyre parkway, instead of watching what is going on with growth. The result is they punish the good business by a stunt like this.

What did people think would happen?

Having lived in C-ville in the 70's I can attest to the city having more than one plow truck, or a city truck with a plow attached to it. While massive snow events are not that common, snow is common, or more particularly...ice events. We had a lot of snow AND ice 2002-2003, and we have had winter weather since then, even if it hasn't been a lot.

The sand doesn't go bad if it isn't used one year so no, there is NO EXCUSE for not having it stockpiled. So, they use it all up in this one storm, we have time to get more for the next storm.

The city and country botched this exactly the same way the Jan-Feb 1994, when they netierh salted nor sanded until we had 3 inches of sleet turn to solid ice.

One day city residents will learn and decide to sign a petition to fire gary O'Connell.

Where do I sign ?

1) vdot never stocks enough sand and salt. If they bought it in the summer and overbought they would get the best price. Trying to buy it now probably commands a 50% premium.

2) VDOT already KNOWS why things didn't go well they just want to wait so that it will blow over. The head of VDOT should be called by the Governer and asked WHY he won't give a statment and either explain it properly or take his lumps and swear to do better.

3) All of the people blaming this on "unbridled" growth are full of it. People have a right to develop their land. No landowner has either a moral or legal obligation to preserve his land according to your values. The government is obligated to handle the infrastructure which they charge tremendous amounts of taxes for. There is not a SINGLE living person in this county who did not have a road built BEFORE they moved here. People that have lived here 80 years had roads to drive on and thet roads have increased ALWAYS behind the population because the GOVERNMENT is shortsighted.

4) The government gets enough money to build and maintain the roads but the money is misspent. They run out of sand and salt. They probably don't have common replacment parts in stock to keep the trucks on the road. They alleggedly play games with job assignments to maximise overtime. (just like the cops do)

5) When it comes to building roads no one can explain why it costs 6 million dollars a mile to lay asphalt. You cannot blame this on either the person selling a piece of property, a builder or the "dam yankee" who wants to move here.

When I didn't hear a plow go by for HOURS during the storm, I knew DOT was making a mistake. I'm from up north and the news always showed the road crews chomping at the bit to get going before the snow even started. Dunkin Donuts even made a commercial joking about it...plow driving with coffee in hand jumped into action as the first flake fell.

Anyway, I'm lucky to live in the city and therefore don't have to drive anywhere. I feel so badly for people who live outside of town who are still waiting to get out. Stay warm, folks!

Snow removal/ice control here has always been totally inadequate resulting in extremely unsafe driving conditions, lost time at work, lost business for stores and restaurants, stranding people at home, and making emergency services very difficult. I'd really like to know why since it probably ultimately costs more to do this badly than well. Just something I've wondered about off and on for 30 plus years. Two feet of snow is a lot but it shouldn't be this big a deal.

I'll tell you what the problem is: The switch and love affair with the stupid liquid de-icer stuff. There was the quote on Saturday from some VDOT talking head "It didn't work as expected"

When it starts snowing as hard as it did at the start, there's no time for that junk to work. The old school rock salt-sand mix would at least put some sand in the mix to give some grip.

Go up to New Hampshire and they don't try and clear sidewalks down to concrete... they clear it to hard packed snow and then put down sand.

And whoever has this freaking love affair with putting in traffic circles... get out to Airport road with a front end loader and clean it and the earlysville rd circles out! It looks like it is set for the olympic mogul skiing gold metal runs!

Boy, I sure hope all the clueless city folks who are running out of food already don't just get fed up and go back to where they came from.

If you want know why the roads were in rough shape start with the top VDOT officials in Richmond.

I worked snow duty.
We had:
Old trucks and equipment that broke down. Snow removal is harder on equipment than anything else.
Since the brainless top officials (Connie Sorrell, commissioner etc) decided that we didn't need some of these equipment shops in the residencies mechanics had to drive 20 and 30 miles to repair equipment some out in the storm.
We don't have enough people anymore and the contractors while some try to do a good job had equipment problems as well.

All of this downsizing and restructuring sounds good on paper until you have a MAJOR weather emergency like this.
Hopefully this will wake the citizens up and they will take out thier frustrations on the ones that deserve it.
The Governor, Commissioner, Asst Commissioner and CTB and the General Assembly.

In rural areas, farmers and other people with plows could be paid to plow short sections of their roads. It would be better than nothing. But I agree about writing to protest and not just about snowstorms. On our road after Hurricane Isabelle there was a large hole in the road over a stream with a culvert. VDOT put an orange cone there which of course would blow away or get knocked over. Everyone here knew to drive in the middle but one night someone flipped their car into the stream and died. Of course the next day VDOT was out starting repairs. And running out of food is minor compared with the fact that delivery of emergency services is now hugely impaired. But I'd be willing to bet there are many native Virginians who go back 100s of generations who are even now running out of food.

I agree re: emergency preparedness. I was just responding to the stupid remark about city people and moving back to where they came from. That particular attitude is really irritating especially here ie "who are your people." Grrr.

CvilleAM, are you listening, many roads in the City have no sidewalks, the street is the only place to walk.

Kramer, you're right Charlottesville snowstorm has made it round the globe. Picture of Charlottesville in the Pittsburg paper, my aunt just called to check in --said our little town is in fact all over the airwaves.

Stranded car in Charlottesville, VA

CNN iReport

http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-372281

Breaking News, weather »
Winter storm socks East Coast, strands Virginia motorists
By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON �" Officials in Virginia say the snow storm socking the East Coast has caused several hundred motorists to become stranded in the western part of the state.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner said Saturday that local and state officials, as well as the National Guard, have helped get about 100 stranded motorists to shelters in two counties. About a foot of snow has fallen in the area.

Spieldenner says many of the motorists became stranded after accidents along Interstate 89 and Route 29 blocked the road. Officials are using four-wheel drive vehicles and the National Guard is using Humvees to help some of the motorists

About 16 inches fell west of Charlottesville, Va."

I heard that 30 inches fell at Wintergreen

I think that we all need to realize that the conditions were awful at the beginning of the storm and it just snowballed...the storm basically begin right before rush hour on Friday evening and even in the best of circumstances, I recall there being plenty of issues on Charlottesville roads when things are during the morning/evening commutes. People knew this huge weather system was forming and the ground was impossibly cold as the temperature never got above the freezing mark. I think yes, there are problems with VDOT, but you'd be hard pressed to find good plow coverage anywhere given the conditions and rush hour traffic. After speaking to my brother who lives in Northern Virginia he stated he had to drive home on the Beltway/Dulles Toll Road and was unable to see lines due to the weather conditions. He saw numerous cars spinning out of control so this was not just an issue for Nelson County. I think everyone should just count their blessings that they made it home safely and maybe next time when the weather service calls for a major storm to hit, everyone takes appropriate cautions when driving down snow covered roads and to yeild the right of way to the plows....

I didn't get home to Buckingham county until saturday afternoon and was surprised to find the main route#20 from Scottsville into Buckingham in a lot better condition than Charlottesville.It seems like these roads had barely been plowed from MJH-Keene.