District surpasses snow budget

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District officials were left scrambling to clear roads and sidewalks amid budget overruns, after a record setting snowfall dumped around 40 inches on the city. But though the winter season has not yet finished, the District surpassed its $6.2 million snow budget after the first storm that began last Friday.

The District has nearly 270 pieces of equipment working 12-hour shifts to plow, salt and treat area streets and between the District Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works, nearly 750 employees have been working throughout the storm to remove snow from sidewalks and streets, DDOT spokesman John Lisle said.

In addition to the District-operated plows, contractor plows are being employed. DDOT also had crews working to clear fallen trees and branches. DDOT employs plows all around the city, including on-campus, but GW does have the authority to privately plow its on-campus streets.

ANC Commissioner and GW alumna Asher Corson said getting parked cars off the Foggy Bottom streets and clearing the sidewalks are the two biggest issues facing the neighborhood. He said it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect the city to recover and handle the storm because snow like this “really only happens once in a decade.”

Corson said he spent much of Wednesday helping elderly people shovel snow in front of their homes, and said he hoped to formalize a “neighborhood brigade of people willing and able to shovel for people who are not willing and able to shovel.” GW students especially need to clear their walkways, Corson said.

“I really believe the number one issue right now is safe pedestrian passage,” Corson said. “I don’t want to make it an issue or call out students, but I do think it’s worth reminding students that live in townhouses in the neighborhood that they have a legal responsibility to shovel their sidewalks.”

Many of the unshoveled houses he has seen are student’s homes, Corson said.

Getting parked cars out of the street is another big neighborhood issue, Corson said.

“People are really not able to get their cars out of the parked spots because the plows plowed a lot of the snow right onto the sides of the streets basically completely covering cars,” Corson said.

But as plows keep displacing the snow, the city has already exceeded its $6.2 million snow removal budget for this fiscal year, after having to clear the streets from a storm that dumped 16 inches on the area in December and another six inches a few weeks ago.

According to the National Weather Service, after Wednesday’s snow, this has been the snowiest season on record for D.C. The average snowfall for D.C. is 15 inches, according to a DDOT fact sheet.

“We won’t have any idea how much we have exceeded our budget until these storms end and the season is completed,” Lisle said.

The District spent more than $4 million on December’s storm alone, according to The Washington Post. According to the Post, the $6.2 million budget is almost $1.5 million less than what was spent in 2007, but more than was spent the last two seasons. Chicago’s snow removal budget is three times that at $17.2 million, according to the Huffington Post.

Budget overruns should not limit the snow removal process, however.

“It doesn’t affect anything we’re doing. We’ll keep plowing and salting and do what we need to clear the streets,” Lisle said. “We have to find some way to pay for it, but that’s something the mayor and the city will have to figure out.”

A request for comment to Fenty’s office on the budget overrun was not immediately returned, but Lisle said his office is focusing solely on clearing the streets.

“Clearing is going very well,” Lisle said. “Most streets have been plowed . multiple times. The goal now is to get the streets down to the pavement.”

Lisle said that DDOT asked people to be patient, and allow the trucks an opportunity to reach their street before calling 311, the mayor’s call center.

“We have work left to do,” he said.

And though Lisle said that DDOT would continue working through the storm, the additional snow means that DDOT will have to pull back their resources from residential areas and once again focus on the main roads.

“It’ll set us back and add insult to injury,” Lisle said.

Gabrielle Bluestone contributed to this report.

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