Road Conditions Might Be Worse Than Normal This Winter. Here’s Why.

A shortage of snowplow drivers might make winter travel a bit more complicated this year.

Nothing disrupts traffic faster than heavy snowfall. In regions where snow is a reoccurring part of life in the winter, snowplows keep interstates and side streets passable even during the worst storms.

Unfortunately, many areas across the U.S. are facing a shortage of snowplow drivers that threatens to severely impact travel conditions this winter. According to the Associated Press, several states including Pennsylvania, Montana and Washington, all report difficulties finding snowplow drivers.

“We want the traveling public to understand why it could take longer this season to clear highways during winter storms,” Jon Swartz, maintenance administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, told the AP. “Knowing this helps motorists to plan ahead and adjust or even delay travel plans.”

There are multiple reasons for this shortage. One is obvious: Operating a snowplow is hard, dangerous work that often requires drivers to stay up all night clearing roads. Another is the lack of competitive pay. These state DoT’s are competing for drivers with private companies who can afford to pay better wages. Ongoing concern regarding COVID-19 has also undoubtedly contributed to the shortage.

In some regions, the snowplow driver shortage is less severe near the big cities but problematic in less populous areas. In snowy Minnesota, the DoT has reported no staffing issues and expects to be in “good shape when it comes to snowplow drivers.” But things are not as rosy in Cook County, a rural area far north of the Twin Cities, where they are not only short on drivers, but applicants for open positions.

“Talking to guys that have been on the crew for 10 to 20 years, for the interview process, there would be 20 to 30 applicants,” Robert Hass, a highway engineer for Cook County, told KARE-11 in Minneapolis. “And I laugh because when we have postings here, I’m happy if we get one.”

With these shortages, clearing the roads might take longer than usual. Short-staffed DoT’s will be in a particularly tough spot if a major winter storm settles in.

“If we have a series of storms over several days or if it hits the whole state at once, (the shortage) is going to become more evident because we don’t have as deep a bench,” Barbara LaBoe, spokesperson for state of Washington’s DoT, told the AP.

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