Private company to provide Joplin snowplow drivers

·4 min read

Dec. 8—A proposal to contract with a private sector business to provide commercially licensed drivers to serve as temporary snowplow drivers when needed was authorized Monday night by the Joplin City Council.

Dan Johnson, assistant director of public works for engineering, said it is the first time the city has been short of CDL drivers and has turned to the private sector to clear streets during winter storms.

Private companies do not have the equipment needed to do the work, but the city maintains 13 trucks that can be fitted with equipment such as snowplows, spreader boxes and brining systems to treat and clear streets.

Crews work 12-hour shifts until the pavement is clear on major streets, but a shortage of drivers kept the city from being able to staff those two shifts a day last year, the council was told. The city does have a few drivers still. They will staff the daytime shifts, and the contract drivers will work nights.

Only one company bid on the work, Jeff Asbell Excavating & Trucking Inc. That company already handles snow clearance for the Joplin Regional Airport.

Under the approved contract, the company will provide a supervisor or foreman and up to nine licensed drivers at a cost of $1,015 per hour or $12,180 for a 12-hour shift. If the city experiences the usual three to five winter storms, the costs to use contracted drivers could range from $73,000 to $183,000. It would be paid from street funds provided by the transportation sales tax.

Lynden Lawson, the assistant public works director over operations, said that if there is a winter storm, it is important that motorists do not get in the way of the trucks and equipment.

"Please do not try to pass our city trucks while they are out there doing their job because they are looking through two mirrors, a big front windshield and, at the same time, they are trying to manipulate their equipment to make sure they are only putting so much of the mixture behind them. So they have a lot of things going on," Lawson said.

"If you don't need to be on the streets at that time, please stay home until the streets are clear," Lawson said.

Pre-treatment is put down to put a barrier between the ice surface and the pavement so the plows can clear the frozen precipitation more thoroughly.

The city has only enough equipment and crews to clear major streets. The trucks try to plow in front of schools and trolley stops.

Businesses and residents are responsible for clearing their own properties and driveways.

The city's planning and neighborhood development is putting together a roster of community groups that could provide people to clear the walkways of elderly or disabled residents, he said.

Last winter, the city had only enough staff to run half shifts. "We knew that we needed to do something. This shortage of CDL drivers is not just in the city of Joplin," Johnson said.

The Missouri Department of Transportation and the Kansas Department of Transportation also have already put out public information that they have a shortage of drivers and that motorists can expect lower levels of service this year. People may need to stay home more and not travel if the roads and highways cannot be cleared as quickly, Johnson said.

MoDOT said in October it was to hold training drills because 20% of its drivers are recently hired. The department has been losing around 70 employees a month for the last six months, MoDOT officials said.

"We are several hundred employees below what we need in order to cover more than one shift in a statewide storm," said Patrick McKenna, MoDOT director, in an October statement. "If a widespread winter storm lasts more than one 12-hour shift, we will not have enough employees to fill all the trucks on the second shift and therefore it will take longer to clear the roads."

The Kansas Department of Transportation is about 30% short of snowplow operators needed to be fully staffed across the state, that agency said in November.

"KDOT is facing significant staffing shortages in some areas and will work proactively to clear Kansas highways by shifting crews to affected areas and pretreating highways and bridges whenever possible," Secretary Julie Lorenz said in a November statement.

Kansas will transfer commercially licensed drivers from other departments to help with seasonal road clearing and is continuing to try to hire drivers.

Johnson said the Joplin decision "took a lot of deliberation about what our options were. We had some good examples to work with and made a lot of contacts to consider ways to handle the driver shortage."