Worker-Training Issue Leaves Show Me State Vulnerable This Winter

Snow plows attempt to clear the streets Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis, Missouri

Snow plows attempt to clear the streets Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis, Missouri Jeff Roberson / AP File Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

An important part of the snow-removal process: People to operate the plows.

When it comes to effectively preparing for and responding to winter weather conditions, it doesn’t always matter how many snow plows there are in an agency’s vehicle fleet or how much salt and snow-melt chemicals are ready to be applied to roadways.

You need people to operate the plows. And that’s a problem in Missouri. After state budget cuts in recent years, the Missouri Department of Transportation hasn’t been able to train enough workers to operate snow-removal vehicles.  

During a recent legislative testimony in Jefferson City, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said that if there were a repeat of the strong January 2017 ice storm that hit the central U.S., the department would face daunting challenges in its response.  

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“We were about 500 people below where we needed to be in terms of being able to handle a statewide storm coming into this season,” McKenna said Tuesday, adding that several hundred employees more would have needed to be trained how to snowplow. “We have had winter conditions throughout the state (recently), but they haven’t blanketed the entire state. We were very fortunate that they didn’t. We would have been pretty challenged meeting the service needs of the public.”

A shortage of snow plow operators has also been a problem in southern Maine, where the state has paid for private contractors to come in from Ohio to help clear snow. As the Portland Press-Herald reported in December, where a “strong economy is siphoning current and potential employees into better-paying municipal and private-sector jobs.”

Pay issues are also an issue in Missouri: “We need qualified people, and we need to pay them based on market conditions,” McKenna said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “They’re in demand. They’re getting paid more in other industries.”

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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