The Colorado Department of Transportation is short of 130 employees on the West Rim, leaving a crucial region of the state that includes the heavily guarded stretch of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon with about 22 percent of its staff.
At a meeting with Routt County Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 30, CDOT officials said the agency has been slow to respond to the current job market and they are losing applicants to fast food chains. who offer better wages.
“We compete directly with Wendy’s on hourly pay,” said Spencer Dickey, assistant superintendent of CDOT Maintenance Section 6, which includes Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties.
In Craig, where Wendy’s on Victory Way is currently advertising eight different vacancies, the CDOT barn is 43% short of staff. Statewide, CDOT is 20% or more short of maintenance personnel in 25 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including vacancy rates of 36% in Grand Junction and 45% in Denver.
Some key maintenance barns along I-70 from Wolcott to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel are missing more than half their staff. Avon’s barn is working with a 70% reduction in staff, according to documents shared by CDOT on Tuesday.
“We’re having trouble getting even applicants,” said Jason Smith, CDOT Region 3 transportation manager. “Some of our positions are open all the time.”
The 130 vacancies are in the CDOT’s Third Region, which is a 15-county area that includes much of the Western Rim north of the San Luis Valley. This area includes over 5,000 miles of state highway, 13 mountain passes, and I-70 from the tunnels to the Utah border.
About 30 of the openings are in CDOT’s engineering sector and another 100 in maintenance, Smith said. He said low wages and housing affordability are two big issues the agency is trying to overcome.
As CDOT plans to raise salaries and find cheaper housing options for employees — potentially even building some of its own — Smith said the agency has lagged in responding to hiring issues. .
“Especially in these resort areas, the costs are not going to come down,” Smith said. “In some of these places, like Silverthorne, we’re finding that the average cost of rent per month is about more than what we’re already paying in salary.”
Dickey said an entry-level snowplow truck driver and most entry-level positions for CDOT would earn just under $3,400 per month, which translates to $19.37 per hour. . Wendy’s announces entry-level positions on the West Slope up to $20 per hour.
Amid a drawdown, protocols on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon that put crews on standby during a flood watch so they are able to close the causeway if it escalates as a warning also put to straining what the agency can do, Smith said.
“We can be on the lookout for hours,” Smith said, though he noted the canyon has only closed six times this summer, none of them lasting more than a few hours.
To overcome those shortages, Smith said Region 3 borrowed from other regions, with crews based in Denver and Greeley helping maintain the roads. Although it works now, when the snow flies they will have their own needs to deal with, he said.
Dickey said various areas share maintenance crews in what he called a “gang maintenance” strategy and sometimes they’ll push plows east to chase a storm. He said the agency has had to get more and more creative as staffing has deteriorated.
A recruiting issue has been reaching younger candidates, who often seek fixed schedules, Dickey said. Many CDOT vacancies require workers to burn out and react to storm events as they occur, and new hires are often assigned graveyard shifts.
“We’re having a really hard time connecting with young candidates, attracting them, or finding a way to really express all the opportunities we have here,” Dickey said. “Being subject to whatever Mother Nature throws at us, yeah, that’s a tough sell at $19.37 an hour.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.