Summit County, CDOT and Breckenridge short plow drivers for the start of the winter season
Less staff means figuring out what roadways get highest priority
Summit County saw its first significant snowfall of the winter season last week, and the wet weather correlated with numerous collisions along Interstate 70. With temperatures dropping and complaints from both businesses and local government entities about severe labor shortages, what will winter road conditions be like moving forward?
Summit County, the town of Breckenridge and the Colorado Department of Transportation are all reporting that their departments are currently short staffed. All three organizations said they’ll likely be prioritizing certain roadways over others, at least for the beginning of the winter season, until they can fill more positions.
Statewide, CDOT spokesperson Bob Wilson said the department has about 191 positions open across the state, but that it’s currently in the midst of onboarding a total of 30 part-time and full-time positions. Narrowing it down even further, Wilson reported that there are about 30 vacancies currently open for Regions 1 and 3, the two that encompass Summit County and its surrounding areas.
Wilson said Interstate 70 will always take the highest priority, followed by U.S. Highway 6 and Colorado Highways 9 and 91. Wilson said all of these roadways “take on somewhat of an urgency” because they are major, well-used, arteries that connect Summit County to other surrounding counties.
Wilson explained that Summit County has few major highways and the ones it does have are all “a fairly high priority.” In other areas of the state, such as north of Kremmling, certain roadways might not be as high of priority because they’re used by fewer travelers.
As soon as the winter season starts, Wilson said CDOT strategically coordinates its schedule so that crews can begin plowing and clearing roads when a winter storm rolls in.
“We go on snow shifts at a particular hour, like at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and that means 12 hours on and 12 hours off,” Wilson said. “A driver will work 12 hours and then another driver comes on to relieve them of that shift. He works 12 hours and then they alternate until the roads get back to normal driving conditions.”
Wilson said crews in Summit County and surrounding areas are always on snow shift when the winter season is in full force, mostly since the weather is continuous at higher elevations. Because of this, a shorter staff means there’s less workers to clear more roads at once. Wilson noted the organization is still recruiting to hire additional people and that it’s using means like higher wages, job fairs and a housing stipend to boost its efforts.
The town of Breckenridge is using similar recruitment tactics to staff up, too. Scott Jackman, streets and parks manager for the town, said his department ideally has 18 positions filled at the beginning of the winter season. They’re currently looking to fill one full-time position and four part-time positions.
Because of the shortage, Jackman said all roads, bus routes and parking lots are considered high priority, but some areas might not get a second plow right away. Major town roads such as Main Street are focused on first.
“We will continue to keep the same priorities but maybe some roads, say some residential roads, may not get widened, may not get a second pass as soon as they have in the past,” Jackman said. “Our goal is to get everything plowed for each event, get the roads open and safe but they may not be plowed as wide (and) that second pass may not happen as early.”
Jackman declined to say which other roads were of highest priority and which roads were under the town’s domain. He did note that to meet the needs of the community, the town will often contract services out to ensure the roads are plowed.
As for county roads, Robert Jacobs, county engineer and road and bridge director, said Swan Mountain Road, the Dillon Dam Road and Boreas Pass Road are some of the highest priorities. Once those are taken care of, Jacobs said the Summit Stage routes and side roads are next on the list.
Jacobs said the county is currently interviewing for three positions, and that his team is still strategizing how to coordinate their efforts for the upcoming season. The department usually relies on a mix of 16 seasonal, part-time and full-time positions to get the job done. Each driver is responsible for a route, which is an attempt to make the process more efficient.
Jacobs also wanted to remind community members that there are steps that they can take to ensure that their streets and roads are plowed effectively. Keeping cars and trash cans in driveways and out of roads is one, as well as understanding why there might be a buildup of snow at the edge of their driveway.
“There’s a couple of things that we always get complaints about in the winter time,” Jacobs said. “One of them is the ridge in their driveway. … An inherent part of living in Summit County is that we’re going to plow off to the side, and there will be a ridge in people’s driveway and it’s not going to be the same ridge in every driveway because geometries are different (and) the way snow piles up is different.”
For more information about the county’s plow schedule and to learn more about winter maintenance, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/266/Winter-Maintenance.
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