COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — Mid-September may seem too early to think about snow and ice, but not when the city saw ice and snow accumulate on Labor Day week in 2020 — which is why snowplow crews start training for winter weather as soon as possible.
The city is conducting a two-day mandatory training session for plow operators this week; the training is a good refresher course because drivers spend the warmer months on other public works maintenance projects.
Officials said that the nationwide pandemic-driven labor shortage left them short 17 drivers last year; than number is currently down to 12.
Of the 150 employees in the city’s Streets Division that will receive snowplow training, 35 will be new, officials revealed.
“The challenge is traffic, getting familiar with your routes, things like that,” said Joseph Yonkers, one of the new drivers. “The new streets, the city expanding. I’m ready to get out there. I think I’m in the right mindset. I feel comfortable being out there.”
The driver shortage will have some effect on plowing efficiency, said Corey Farkas, the city’s public works manager for operations and maintenance.
“The timing of these storms — with this many vacancies — we’ll get taken out just a little bit,” he explained. “Instead of completing an operation in 2 to 3 days, it may take 4 days.”
Farkas also said that clearing major streets and roads will continue to be the top priority, but that secondary streets — where most schools are — make take slightly longer to reach.
“We’ll have to lean on our experienced drivers to get our new drivers up to speed,” he said. “The course that they’re training on is more challenging than what they’ll actually face on the streets.”
According to the Streets Division, costs for salt and other materials have risen 15% but officials limited the impact by buying in bulk this summer.
“We’re also installing several large storage tanks for liquid salt application,” said Clint Brown, street operations manager. “So we can triple our capacity. It’s a much more effective tool for us because it’s cheaper.”
The increased storage is part of the division’s trend away from using anti-skid material — a mixture of salt and sand applied in icy areas — because it tends to accumulate between storms and can be difficult to remove.
El Paso County will conduct similar training for its snowplow operators in two weeks.