DENVER — Jefferson County is revising some of its routes this winter due to a snowplow driver shortage.
The county put out a series of tweets Wednesday asking people to be patient as it works through the shortage.
❄️ is on the way this afternoon/evening.
Due to a statewide shortage of truck drivers, #Jeffco Road & Bridge revised its Snow Removal Procedure. We appreciate your understanding as we work through this staffing shortage. Get all of the details at https://t.co/UHUNeSOWtB
— Jeffco Colorado (@JeffcoColorado) January 5, 2022
JeffCo says COVID-19 is partially to blame. The county needs at least 37 more drivers to be able to meet the same level of service it has historically provided.
JeffCo drivers typically cover 84 snow routes, according to the county, and officials try to assign at least one unit per route. In total, the county plows 2,900 miles of paved road and 700 miles of gravel roads.
In order to be a driver, employees need to have a Class B commercial driver’s license and a minimum of one year of experience.
For now, the main focus for plow drivers will be main arterial streets with high traffic volumes, followed by major subdivisions and bus/ school routes. Residential and low traffic streets will be the county’s lowest priorities, officials said.
For areas in the Plains, residential and low traffic streets will not be plowed if the snow accumulation is six inches or less, the county says, and if melting is forecasted. For mountain areas, plowing will not take place overnight.
Nationwide, there is a shortage of qualified, licensed truck drivers. The Colorado Department of Transportation says it does have enough drivers currently to maintain its plow routes, but has seen a slight uptick in driver vacancies.
Officials say CDOT is working on several strategies in order to recruit more drivers. First, the department says it’s raising its base pay and has created a snow bonus for employees who do work throughout the winter. That bonus will be paid out in the spring and summer.
“Some of the things we do, including housing stipend in parts of the state where costs are higher, we certainly know that can be an issue both in the Front Range but particularly in some mountain communities, we’re trying to create a compensation package that can work and really make this a career,” said Matt Inzeo with CDOT.
The department has also shifted its recruitment strategy and is now looking to hire people for entry level positions who can be trained up to obtain their CDL in-house.
Over the course of the pandemic, the department has changed some of its routes, and says they've discovered some efficiencies they plan on implementing in the long-term.
“Historically we have used very fixed routes, so patrol number 27 will plow from point A to point B and they would always do those exact routes," said Inzeo. "What we’re finding is that by being a little bit flexible and having teams shift as needed, we’re able to get the job done just as well as we have an any other year. Some of that is working so well that some of these are changes we’ll probably continue to use going forward.”
For the average driver, despite the changes in routes, Inzeo insists you likely won’t notice much of a difference on state roads. Jefferson County, meanwhile, is pleading for patience and for qualified drivers to consider applying.