In the face of a predicted milder winter, D.C.'s snow removal chief said the city is prepared for anything after learning from mistakes during last year's rush hour snow storm, even though D.C. has little control over whether the federal government does its part during a storm.
"We have the plan, equipment, supplies, we're ready for anything," said Department of Public Works Director Bill Howland said Monday at a D.C. Council hearing.
The city budgeted $6.5 million on snow removal and over the last year has acquired more snow removal equipment and has contracted with an additional salt vendor and strengthened a contract with a snow removal company in the event of another severe storm, Howland said.
And with meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting another winter with above-average temperatures, Howland said he expects the city will stay within that budget.
"We're completely staffed for up to 18-to-20 inches of snow [total], I feel very comfortable about what we can do," he said. "After that it gets a little shaky."
Major storms are still dicey, however as some problems highlighted by the January 2011 storm that hit during rush hour and stranded commuters on the road until early the next morning are out of the city's hands. Howland said even though the federal government released its employees at 11 a.m. that day, many chose to linger until early afternoon when the snow began to fall.
In the event of another rush hour storm, Howland said D.C. will ask employees to leave early or stay late so the plows can clear streets.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, expressed doubt that request would be heeded.
"But how are you going to get people to comply?" she asked.
"We can't force them but... I think for a lot of people 14 hours in your car is a strong reminder that they don't want to go through that again," Howland said.
Roads and sidewalks under the National Park Service's purview, including around many city parks, are also out of District control. During the last major storm, DPW received dozens of complaints from residents when NPS-owned roads and sidewalks were not plowed.
When asked whether his staff had asked the NPS for its new snow removal plans, Howland said his staff meets regularly with park service officials but had not asked for any commitments from the agency.
Cheh pressed for more action.
"We've had difficulty with the National Park Service," she said.