A CDOT snowplow pushes snow from the left lane down Grand Avenue after a storm dumped several inches of snow in Glenwood and nearby towns.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Pitkin County — As the Colorado Department of Transportation grapples with a shortage of snowplow drivers, the agency is offering a $1,000 monthly stipend for rent and plans to build new homes in basalt for this winter and upcoming season support and recruit employees for the maintenance of Highway 82.
CDOT has not filled any of the six snowplow operator positions that were scheduled to be filled at El Jebel and has filled three of the four positions at Carbondale.
To fill the gap, area supervisors are working with crews in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle to plow and maintain Highway 82 from Carbondale to the Independence Pass gate east of Aspen.
According to Alice Thatcher, CDOT communications manager, CDOT has identified 11 crews in the Hanging Lake area of Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Canyon who can prepare for the storm while the agency implements its shift-build team strategy.
“We can also pull people out of Grand Junction to do equipment maintenance or engineers who can spend more time plowing,” she said. “They can mobilize ahead of a storm.”
Last year, five out of 10 positions at CDOT in the Roaring Fork Valley were filled, and the agency has historically faced a 20% driver shortage across the board, but with a growing housing crisis and fewer CDL drivers in the recruiting pool, CDOT needs to get creative .
The monthly rental stipend for CDOT employees based in El Jebel and Carbondale has increased from $500 to $1,000 effective November 1.
Road maintenance salaries have increased by 3% annually for the past three years, and CDOT has increased its first maintenance job salaries by an additional 7.5% in the first year. For entry-level maintenance positions, entry-level pay also increased by 2.5%, along with a 5% increase in first-year trainee pay.
According to Thatcher, the salary for an entry-level road maintenance technician is $44,000, but increases to $52,500 with overtime, on-call duty, and performance bonuses.
“Payment is something we’re continuing to work on,” she said.
Although the housing grant improves employees’ ability to rent or buy housing where they live and work, there remains a housing stock in Colorado that the grant cannot address.
As a result, CDOT is building new workers’ housing, allowing essential workers to live within 30 minutes of their designated workspace.
CDOT has secured an apartment in a new five unit building in Glenwood Springs and intends to exercise an option to acquire more on the property and build apartments in Basalt.
CDOT is in the early planning stages for this project and there is currently no funding or formal proposals, Thatcher said.
“CDOT’s discussions include local stakeholders (cities, counties and other state agencies such as the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado State Patrol),” she wrote in an email. “It’s a huge undertaking and with our newly increased housing benefit, we’ll keep it under review.”
CDOT was able to rely on its three crews based in Carbondale to provide adequate plowing and maintenance of Highway 82 during the recent storm cycle that saw more than 2 feet of snow fall in October and early November.
Repeated requests from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office for comment on Highway 82 maintenance during the last storm cycle have gone unanswered.
This story is from AspenTimes.com.