CDOT upping ante with money, housing to attract snowplow drivers

Monthly stipend to live in Roaring Fork Valley increased to $1K

A CDOT snowplow pushes snow from the left lane down Grand Avenue after a storm left multiple inches of snow in Glenwood and surrounding towns.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

As the Colorado Department of Transportation continues to grapple with a snowplow driver shortage, the agency is offering $1,000 monthly stipends for rent and is considering building new housing in Basalt to attract employees to maintain Highway 82 this winter and in the coming seasons.

CDOT has filled zero of the six snowplow driver positions who are supposed to be stationed in El Jebel and has three of four positions filled in Carbondale.

To fill the void, supervisors for the area are working with employees based at Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle to plow and maintain Highway 82 from Carbondale up to the Independence Pass closure gate east of Aspen. 

CDOT has identified 11 staffers in Rifle, Glenwood Springs and the Hanging Lake area in Glenwood Canyon who can be at the ready in advance of a storm as the agency implements its shift surge team strategy, according to Elise Thatcher, CDOT communications manager.

“We can also pull people in from Grand Junction, those who do equipment maintenance or engineers who might end up spending more time out plowing,” she said. “They can mobilize ahead of a storm.”

Last year CDOT had five of 10 positions in the Roaring Fork Valley filled and the agency has historically faced a 20% driver shortage across the board, but in the face of a growing housing crisis and fewer CDL drivers in the hiring pool, CDOT has had to get creative.

The monthly rent stipend for CDOT workers located in El Jebel and Carbondale has been increased from $500 to $1,000, effective Nov. 1.

Pay for highway maintainers have seen 3% annual raises for the past three years, and CDOT has increased its first-year wages by an additional 7.5% for its core maintenance positions. For entry level maintenance positions, starting pay has also increased by 2.5% with a 5% training pay increase in the first year.

The salary for entry-level highway maintainers is $44,000, but that bumps up to $52,500 with overtime, on-call pay and performance bonuses, according to Thatcher.

“Pay is something we are continuing to work on,” she said.

Although housing stipends further the ability for employees to rent or buy houses where they live and work, Colorado continues to lack an inventory of homes that the stipend cannot address.

As a result, CDOT is building new workforce housing that will allow essential employees to live within 30 minutes of their assigned duty area.

CDOT has secured one apartment in a new five-unit building in Glenwood Springs and can exercise the option to obtain more on the property and is looking to build housing in Basalt.

CDOT is in the initial planning phase for that project and there are no funding or formal proposals currently, Thatcher said. 

“CDOT’s discussion includes local stakeholders (city, county and other state agencies like the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado State Patrol),” she wrote in an email. “This is a huge undertaking, and with our new increased housing stipend, something we will continually assess.”

CDOT was able to rely on its three employees stationed in Carbondale to adequately plow and maintain Highway 82 during the last storm cycle that dropped over 2 feet of snow in October and the beginning of November.

Repeated requests for comment by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office on the maintenance of Highway 82 during the recent storm cycle went unanswered.

For more information, read our previous coverage:

CDOT in ‘competition with Wendy’s’ to fill 130 openings on Western Slope