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New online tool allows Charlottesville residents to track snowplow status

After last year’s balmy winter in Charlottesville, residents would be forgiven for not having visions of snowy weather alongside the seasonal sugar plums this year.

But according to the Farmer’s Almanac, they should.

Last year, Charlottesville saw the least amount of snow ever in recorded history, less than an inch, and nearby Wintergreen Resort had its shortest ever ski season, about 68 days.

But Central Virginia is in for a snowier and colder winter than normal this year, according to that popular predictor of winter weather the Farmer’s Almanac. Already, Wintergreen has received several inches. In one night last weekend, Wintergreen received 4 inches, already surpassing last year’s accumulation.

Ahead of the predicted precipitation, the city of Charlottesville has unveiled a new online portal that will help residents see when a snowplow will be clearing their streets this winter.

The tool will be available on the city’s official website, and with a GPS tracker placed on each of the city’s 25 snowplow trucks, locals will be able to see for themselves which streets have been cleared and which haven’t.

“Historically one of the most common customer service calls we receive during winter service events is ‘Where is my snowplow, and when will my road be plowed?’” city public service manager Jonathan Dean told The Daily Progress.

With this new online portal, those people will be able to use the tool instead of calling the city.

A city statement announcing the new portal includes an example of what residents can expect:

When snow starts to accumulate, people can go to where they can click a link to enter the plow portal. There, they will see a color-coded map of Charlottesville roads. Some roads will be colored in green, meaning they’ve recently been plowed, while roads in red are still waiting to be cleared. They will also be able to see when a road was last plowed, offering additional insight on when and where they can expect the next round of plowing.

A green road means it’s been plowed within the past four hours. Blue means within the past four to eight hours. Yellow means the past eight to 12 hours. Red means more than 12 hours ago.

“Color codes show timing and service. It gives an idea that my road was plowed less than four hours ago, so conditions might be better than if it was eight or more hours ago,” Dean said.

While the city advises people stay home during inclement winter weather, Dean said he thinks the system will be especially helpful for people who must get on the road.

“It will help with route planning. If you have trip you need to make, maybe you can look at the map and see what the progress is across the city,” Dean said.

The automated vehicle location, or AVL, has been used by the city for years to identify where the city’s fleet of trucks is located. But this will be the first time the system is used for snowplows, a decision made after some successful trial runs.

“We do what’s called a ‘dry run’ every year. We get all our snow equipment and drivers ready to go like it’s a real snow event. They complete assigned routes as if it was snowing,” Dean said. “It lets us see if the GPS is working, and for drivers to see hazards and things to look out for when visibility is much better.”

The objective is more transparency and data accumulation so that city residents can make more informed decisions.

“The Public Works Department has been testing the service internally and is leveraging the additional operational awareness the portal provides, especially for improving coordination between the multiple departments and organizations who all have a role to play to keep the public and roadways safe during inclement weather,” according to the city’s announcement. “Public Works is excited to provide this additional communication tool to the public and hopes it will improve the level of information available to residents and reduce the number of customer service calls.”

In addition to 25 snowplows, the city has 35 people assigned to its snow operations team. Dean said the city is satisfied with those numbers, although they are always looking to hire more experienced drivers.

“Snowplow operations requires practice and experience to get good at, and if you have a lot of new drivers it takes some time,” he said. “We’re excited about this new technology to help new drivers and make sure they’re not missing little roundabouts, cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Drivers can hold themselves accountable for their routes.”

He said he hopes for a mild winter but thinks the city will be prepared for more inclement winter weather, especially with this new portal.


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