Snow is flying and the temps have dropped below freezing. It’s a perfect recipe to instill safe and slow driving habits. What’s more is the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently down a number of snow plow operators for clearing Highway 82 and Highway 133 this winter season. (https://cobblerexpress.com/)
Only three of 10 snow plowing positions for the region are currently filled. While this may read as alarming at first, CDOT assures that there is no need to be overly concerned and moreover that worker shortages for the state agency are not atypical. Last year, CDOT only had five of the positions filled for the same area.
As needed, CDOT plans to divert drivers who typically (un)cover roads in Grand Junction to the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys.
“We’ve identified employees with the proper license and training and we will strategically bring them up to the Roaring Fork Valley based on detailed weather forecasts and conditions,” Elise Thatcher with CDOT told The Sopris Sun. “CDOT is a large organization and one of the benefits of having many teams out in the field is that there is redundancy.” She added that personnel traveling farther than their assigned region are compensated with overtime.
Thatcher notes that employers are competing to hire people with commercial drivers licenses (CDL) across the country due to global supply chain issues. On top of which, especially locally, the cost of living has affected retention.
“In the Roaring Fork Valley in particular, the acute rise in housing costs — especially in areas like Rifle and Parachute, which have historically been affordable — create a challenge across the workforce,” said Thatcher.
“Mountain areas which combine higher housing costs and sometimes limited applicant pools can be harder to fill,” she continued, and then circled back, “but surging staff from across areas of the state is an effective strategy for managing gaps which has been successful for years in areas like Interstate 70 near the Eisenhower Tunnel.”
On Nov. 3, CDOT released a fact sheet, “CDOT Maintenance Readiness”, acknowledging the worker shortage and strategies implemented to address it. The document begins: “CDOT is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to the upcoming winter,” and goes on to describe tactics for retaining workers and navigating snow removal this season.
“Tactics include rotating crews to address roadways that are being highly impacted by adverse conditions, providing updated housing stipends — and workforce housing in some of Colorado’s most sought after locations — and growing CDOT’s CDL program to those just starting out in their careers as professional highway maintainers.”
Working for CDOT
In the past two months, according to the Nov. 3 fact sheet, 68 people have joined CDOT to help maintain state roadways.
While the job calls for a standard 40-hour work week, there are times when employees are called out in the middle of the night to address issues which require CDOT’s attention.
“Also, during snowstorms, maintenance employees switch to 12-hour shifts,” explained Thatcher. “They often end up working more than 40 hours a week during a storm … and they are again earning overtime for those additional hours.”
Noting that prospective employees may feel discouraged to pursue a career which requires obtaining a CDL before being hired, CDOT toted its on-the-job training program. Since September 2021, 72 employees have earned their CDLs and, according to the Nov. 3 release, “33 students are currently in the program and expect to have their CDLs in the next few weeks.”
Since 2018, CDOT has been providing housing stipends for some of its employees living in areas where there is a higher cost of living. After recently performing a market analysis, CDOT decided “to extend stipends to a broader range of geographic areas.” Stipends can reach up to $2,000 a month depending on the location.
“Together we help make sure locals can get to school, the grocery store, doctor appointments and other critical parts of day-to-day life,” concluded Thatcher. “It’s a demanding job and CDOT is taking several new and innovative steps to better compensate employees for their work.”