Photo of snow plow from Wikimedia Commons.
Elizabeth Barker | Contributing Writer
Montgomery County is among many urban counties experiencing a shortage of snow plow drivers during the winter season.
Matt Bruning, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the issue is primarily due to the rising competition to find snow plow drivers with a commercial driver’s license.
However, Bruning said a new ODOT program offering training for that license is an option. The starting pay while training for the commercial driver’s license is $18.45 an hour, and that increases to $19.15 an hour after getting the license, according to ODOT’s website.
However, even with that option, “It continues to be a struggle,” Brunning said.
Montgomery County Engineer Paul Gruner, whose main job is to improve roadway networks and provide safe and efficient movement of travel, said the problem has been developing over the last two to three years.
“Part of it is an aging workforce and retirements,” Gruner said. “Like with some other jobs, during COVID, people lost their jobs and over-the-road trucking decreased significantly.”
The shortage of snow plow drivers in Montgomery County means extended routes for drivers, creating longer turnaround times for all required roads to be plowed.
“Even with a shortage of drivers, we will always maintain the state and U.S. routes outside municipalities and all interstates except the Ohio Turnpike,” Bruning said. “What you may notice is that it will take longer.”
These include Interstate 71, Route 23 and Route 161, according to ODOT’s website.
“Our drivers sometimes work 16 hours straight, have four hours off, then work another 16,” Gruner said. “Low wages compared to other jobs is probably part of it. However, once we have a driver, we have a fairly low turnover rate.”
Gruner also recalled an exchange from a couple of years ago at an annual meeting of the Dayton Development Coalition, where an owner of a trucking company spoke about workforce development.
“There were about 500 people in the audience, and he asked, ‘Raise your hand if you think truck driving is a good career,’ and almost everyone raised their hands,” Gruner said. “Then he said, ‘Raise your hand if you want one of your children to be a truck driver,’ and just a few hands went up. That’s a problem.”
Before any winter snowstorm hits Montgomery County, snow plow drivers prepare the roads as best as they can with the shortage of drivers.
“Typically, we try to pretreat roadways ahead of storms,” Bruning said. “That’s not possible when the storm begins as rain because that would just wash the material off the roads. To be clear, pretreatment just gives our crews a head start. It doesn’t prevent snow and ice from forming on the road.”
Pretreating consists of spraying liquid brine on the roads prior to a storm.
“We also mix in some beet juice and small amounts of other chemicals like calcium chloride,” Gruner said. “Calcium chloride is more effective at melting snow and ice, but it’s expensive and very corrosive, so we use it sparingly.”
The Ohio Department of Transportation maintains 43,000 routes. Each winter, ODOT uses between 300,000 and 900,000 tons of salt, with an average yearly usage of 600,000 tons, according to ODOT’s website.
Because the roads are getting plowed at a much slower rate due to the driver shortage, students at the University of Dayton are among those growing impatient. The City of Dayton will treat and plow streets in the student neighborhoods when snow accumulates at least four inches, according to the university website.
Emmy Sirianni, a senior at UD, had a mandatory meeting Jan. 29 just as the snow was falling. With the thick and high snow levels, she couldn’t drive her car until the street her car was parked on was plowed.
“I couldn’t even move my car because the snow was so thick,” Sirianni said. “I ended up missing a very important meeting for an organization I’m a part of on campus. It was just really frustrating.”
With the shortage of drivers and the winter months still upon us, Bruning suggests motorists stay off the road when a winter storm hits or is projected to hit.
He said their trucks have been hit 23 times this winter, which requires other snow plow drivers to adjust to cover the routes of the hit trucks.
“The best thing motorists can do to help is staying at home during winter storms,” Bruning said. “Even at full strength, roads will likely get snow-covered while it is snowing. The fewer vehicles out on the road, the better we can do our job without having to dodge crashes or other vehicles.”