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MoDOT: Workforce shortage could affect road clearing during prolonged winter storms

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:20 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - From fast food to appliances, cars to construction projects, the world of goods and services is slowing down because of labor shortages and supply chain problems.

And when the snow and ice comes this winter, it may also keep our roads from getting treated as quickly as we’re used to.

That was the word from the Missouri Department of Transportation on Thursday as it held its annual winter drill.

Throughout the day MoDOT salt trucks and snow plows were coming back and forth from the Southwest District compound on Kearney Street and panning out all across the area because even though the weather was sunny and mild, it was time to prepare for the real thing.

“Today is our snow drill,” explained MoDOT Southwest District Engineer Steven Campbell. “This is the practice round for winter operations, the day we try to knock the dust off everything, make sure things are working and give some of our new employees opportunities in the trucks.”

Those opportunities are more important than ever because just like almost everyone else, MoDOT has a workforce and experience shortage. For example, 20 percent of their snow plow operators have less than one-year of experience.

That’s because of high turnover as MoDOT employees have been leaving at a record rate of more than 70 per-month for the last six months.

“That could be around 800 for the year,” Campbell said. “The turnover itself is obviously a big problem but the other side of that is that when we post those positions, we’re not seeing the amount of interest that we used to see.”

And being understaffed will affect MoDOT’s ability to clear roads if the bad weather lingers.

“We are several hundred employees below what we need in order to cover more than one shift in a statewide storm,” said MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna. “If a widespread winter storm lasts more than one 12-hour shift, we will not have enough employees to fill all the trucks on the second shift and therefore it will take longer to clear the roads.”

Looking for some good news?

“We’re in good shape on salt,” Campbell said as MoDOT has 240,000 tons available for use statewide this winter.

MoDOT is also pointing out that its “Buckle Up, Phone Down” campaign is even more important during bad weather in encouraging people to wear a seat belt and stay off their phones while driving.

“The challenges are exacerbated during the snow and ice when we get into a situation where people are driving too aggressively or otherwise distracted,” Campbell said.

And their advice to the public as to what to do in a major weather event considering MoDOT may be limited in its response?

“The message would be don’t drive if you don’t need to drive,” Campbell said. “If you do, check the resources we have because we try to direct as many people as we can to our travel information map where we will continually monitor road conditions so people will understand what they’re going to be faced with.”

For information on road conditions across the state, safe traveling tips, and other winter weather information, visit www.modot.org.

You can also call MoDOT at 888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636).

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