ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Department of Transportation started winter weather drills on Thursday and just like last year, they have a shortage of plow and equipment drivers across the state.
MoDOT said if a widespread winter storm lasts longer than one 12-hour shift, they won’t have enough employees to fill the trucks on the second shift to continue fighting the storm.
MoDOT Assistant District Engineer Michelle Forneris said for their upcoming winter weather operations they are down roughly a thousand employees.
“What that means with that critical staffing shortage of qualified snowplow operators, it will take us longer to get there and return roads during a winter storm to mostly clear,” Forneris said.
She said during winter storms they are going to start with major highways and roads directly in the path of the storm but it could take 24 hours or more to get to smaller state routes, making the practice drill on Thursday even more important.
“This also gives MoDOT employees the opportunity to train, go through safety measures, equipment, techniques that they will need during a winter snow fight. Today MoDOT’s emergency operation centers are also activating and testing out emergency communications,” Forneris said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said more roads that aren’t cleared could mean more people could get trapped or get in crashes.
“It very well probably will be a bigger issue this year. Again, just like they are, Patrol staffing is also down a little bit. But we are working together within our what we call zones within each county, St. Louis County, St. Charles County to maximize our manpower efforts,” Trooper Dallas Thompson said.
The Illinois Department Of Transportation is also in need of workers. They’re down about eight to 10 percent compared to last year, but specialty equipment helps with more coverage.
“Much like the Supersoaker that we have behind us here, it's one of our kind of specialty equipment that really helps us manage unique storms. It can cover four to five lanes depending on how the nozzles are, are pointed,” IDOT District Engineer Joseph Monroe said.
During drills and winter weather, both MoDOT and IDOT say it's important not to crowd the plows and other equipment, follow the truck signs and stay back at a good distance.