CDOT plagued with problems, drivers say |

CDOT plagued with problems, drivers say

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Some Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) plow drivers say limited workweeks are only part of a bigger problem plaguing the agency.

The issue came to a head when drivers began complaining about the new, so-called “40-hours-and-go home” policy that, for some, affects the amount of money they make.

But worse, a lack of manpower combined with limited working hours has drivers fearing they are compromising roadway safety and that tragedy and road closures could result.

Sure, pay is an issue, said a driver who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job. But so is the state’s newest benefits package, the manpower shortage, no raises in the past two years, elimination of the new-hire bonuses and a policy that requires drivers be available around the clock – they have been told they will be written up if they aren’t – if the snow begins to fall.

“Pay isn’t the issue,” the driver said. “Overtime is not the issue. It’s safety for us as well as the traveling public. They (drivers) are very proud; it’s their road. The traveling public will really suffer because we can’t do our job. There are going to be some serious safety issues. That’s the concern. It’s going to really kill us.”

The workweek limitations, he said, prevent plowers from doing a thorough job on highways, thus making them less safe for drivers. And because plow drivers will often work their 40 hours in the first few days of the workweek – and then go home – they can’t do basic maintenance on their trucks.

“Loose bolts, cracks in the welds, brakes, electrical, strobes, headlights, backlights – these aren’t things you typically fix in a storm,” the driver said.

“When does that get worked on if every sunny day we’re being sent home because we have our 40 hours? All of a sudden we’re going to have a lot of equipment that hasn’t had any maintenance.”

He doesn’t like the vision of an out-of-control plow truck careering down Vail Pass.

Additionally, a meeting memo says overtime cannot be spent on pushing back snow, servicing equipment or paperwork.

Other maintenance jobs they can’t complete include ensuring icy spots are sanded as the temperatures drop, replacing roadway reflectors, moving snow from turnouts – and helping stranded drivers.

“We’re the eyes – we care,” another driver said. “Let’s not compromise that at the expense of the traveling public.”

Another issue tied into the equation is one of manpower. Thirty-six drivers work Summit County’s highways; there are five positions open and two employees are on medical leave.

CDOT officials acknowledge that it’s hard to fill seasonal jobs in expensive resort towns. Of Summit’s drivers, 18 live in Clear Creek, Grand, Lake or Park counties.

The driver is curious if traffic accidents have increased since the new policy went into effect.

“I would love to see the numbers,” the driver said. “From what I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s any more accidents than what I saw last year. But I don’t think the roads have been up to par we’ve had the past two years. Could there be an increase in accidents? Yes. I can see it happening. If we can’t get snow pushed back, trucks in shape, it’s going to get worse.”

Because there have been fewer drivers, CDOT has had to put the chain law in effect more this year than in the past two years combined, the driver said.

“I can’t risk having four or five trucks slide up and create a closure while I’m at the top reloading sand,” he said. “I have to put the chain law in. It’s for the safety of everyone else because I don’t have the manpower to adequately take care of the road.”

He and others believe a snowstorm that prevents skiers from getting to Vail Mountain – not deaths – will be what changes the policy.

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