A third of CDOT positions in the Yampa Valley are vacant as the agency adopts an ‘everyone on deck’ approach to winter plowing

A Colorado Department of Transportation snow plow truck clears U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. The agency has lost eight of 24 snow plow operator positions in the Yampa Valley.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Down to a third of its snowplow truck drivers in the Yampa Valley, the Colorado Department of Transportation uses engineers, maintenance personnel and even some administrative employees to clear snow from major roads.

At garages along US Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131, CDOT has 16 of 24 snowplow truck driver positions filled. Despite the eight vacancies, CDOT officials say people should expect plowing to be at the same level as in previous years.

“Our current plan is to fill a lot of our shortages or issues with our mechanics and engineers, who are not traditionally in snowplow trucks, but will step in to fill,” said Randy McIntosh, superintendent of the Section Six of CDOT, based in Northwest Colorado. “We also have foremen and supervisors in the snowplow trucks this year, which will be different from previous years.”

Winter maintenance and road safety are a top priority for the agency, which means CDOT will take an “everyone on deck” approach, he said.

“It’s not that they don’t have work to do otherwise, but they’re stepping out of their comfort zone,” McIntosh said of the workers who helped out with a plow this winter.

CDOT officials said the agency historically had about 10% of its jobs vacant, but that has doubled in recent years. Of 1,600 maintenance positions across the state, the agency is trying to hire about 300 entry-level jobs.

The agency has raised salaries, offered winter bonuses and housing allowances, and is working on mass promotions across the state to retain and attract new employees, but vacancies persist.

“We would like to be 100% full, but our goal is literally to go back to our traditional 10% vacancy rate,” said John Lorme, director of maintenance and operations for Denver-based CDOT. “We really focus on retention first. … We want to plug the bucket hole before we put the water back in.

Locally, Hayden Garage has lost two plow operators and Rabbit Ears Pass and Steamboat Springs Garages each have three open jobs. The Yampa garage is the only one fully staffed on site, with all five snow removal stations staffed.

To ensure roads are plowed in a storm, McIntosh said he plans to shift resources with a storm and focus on key stretches of road like US 40 between Steamboat and Craig. , and on the Rabbit Ears collar. Still, he said the weather could overwhelm their abilities, even if they were fully staffed.

“I’d love to say we can handle anything mother nature throws at us, but she’s got a bigger shovel than we do,” McIntosh said.

Jason Smith, transportation manager for Region Three covering much of the West Rim, said employees with commercial driver’s licenses are encouraged to step in, even if plowing isn’t really their job.

Staffing is still on the move, Smith said, but they’ve seen a surge in hiring since the start of the year, when 25 of Colorado’s 64 counties lost at least 20% of their maintenance workers. At that time, CDOT officials told Routt County Commissioners that they were competing with places like Wendy’s on salaries.

As heavy snowfall fell throughout the day Thursday, Nov. 3, CDOT officials in Denver and the West Rim stressed they were hiring.

Lorme said CDOT workers have received a 13% pay increase over the past two years through a few different raises and another pay increase is planned for the next fiscal year. The agency also added a $2,000 winter performance bonus for snowplow drivers who have good attendance throughout the winter season.

“A good operator who comes to work and does a great job will get a bonus, plus substantial overtime,” Lorme said.

The agency is also in the process of carrying out a “massive reassignment” for anyone who has worked three years or more, promoting them from entry-level transportation maintenance specialist to operator. heavy equipment.

Rather than waiting for people to apply for vacancies, Lorme said they’ve changed their strategy and are trying to appeal to recent high school graduates about career opportunities within the agency. This has included starting what Lorme said is essentially their own school to obtain commercial driver’s licenses for new hires, which he says is an investment of about $7,000 per employee.

“If they’re not going to college, come work for CDOT,” Lorme said. “We have training programs and apprenticeship programs that are all certified, which allows us to recruit people who wouldn’t normally be of interest to us a few years ago because they didn’t have a CDL.

The agency also hopes to tackle housing, with projects currently underway in Frisco and Fairplay. Human resources director Kristi Graham-Gitkind said the agency recently completed a housing study, which has seen many employees double their allowance and others start getting one for the first time.

“Some of these compensation pieces, we’re putting them in place as soon as possible,” Graham-Gitkind said, adding that employees would see their allowance increased this month and the reassignment would take place in December. “We hire, (and) CDOT is a great place to grow your career.

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