Jan 28, 2022 - News

Colorado's snowplow driver shortage hits amid scattered winter storms

A CDOT plow in Golden. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

As snow storms sweep through Colorado, the state's transportation officials are reporting a major shortage in snowplow drivers.

What's happening: The Colorado Department of Transportation is down 200 drivers, double the number of vacancies as would be expected in an average year, spokesperson Matthew Inzeo tells Axios.

  • The dearth of drivers is more pronounced in some of the state's mountain communities due to the high cost of living, he notes.
  • State transportation officials are "moving teams around more this winter season" to adjust for the shortage, he says.

The big picture: States across the country are in the midst of a snowplow operator shortage due to the widespread pandemic-induced employment shakeup rattling the U.S. labor force, the New York Times reports.

State of play: To combat the deficit, Colorado recently bumped its base pay for full-time CDOT employees from $3,265 to $3,347 a month, and started promising a $2,000 snow season performance bonus, Inzeo tells Axios.

  • The state is also looking to hire more entry-level drivers as opposed to people who already have commercial driver's licenses and years of experience.

Zoom in: Contrary to state trends, Denver's transportation department isn't experiencing a shortage, agency spokesperson Nancy Kuhn tells Axios. As of Thursday, the city had 64 drivers available to cover 54 snow routes.

  • To be safe, however, the city is actively recruiting drivers and also providing hiring bonuses of $2,500, Kuhn says. The city pays $19.31 to $28.97 an hour, based on experience and education.
  • Denver officials also recently initiated competitive pay increases to existing drivers based on total years of experience using a Commercial Driver's License.

How it works: When it comes to plowing, the city tends to focus on main streets — or "streets with stripes" — as well as roads near schools. Streets are cleared up to twice per 12-hour shift.

  • Denver transportation officials consider deploying plows when "enough snow has fallen" that they can be helpful in clearing a path for motorists to get to the main streets and prevent deep ice rutting, Kuhn says.

Flashback: Denver's existing snow plow program was created during the blizzards around 2007 and deployed plows only when the forecast called for more than 12 inches of snow — but that changed in 2017.

  • Now, the city will consider deploying its residential plows "if enough snow has fallen that the trucks can be helpful in clearing a path to the main streets and to prevent deep ice rutting that can occur when we get significant snowfall followed by prolonged cold temperatures," Kuhn says.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

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