Kansas, Missouri fear problems clearing snow from highways this winter. Here’s why

In kansascity.com published and claiming that: Snow may sit unplowed on Kansas and Missouri highways for longer than usual this winter, as both states struggle to recruit enough workers to keep routes clear.

Transportation officials are warning that labor shortages threaten their ability to quickly respond after winter storms. Without more employees to operate plows, large and widespread snowfalls will overwhelm their limited capacity, they say. “We want motorists to understand why it could take longer this season to clear highways during storms,”

Kansas Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz said in a blunt message this week. “Knowing this allows motorists to plan ahead, alter or even delay travel plans, which in turn helps them stay safe.”

The Kansas Department of Transportation has 30% fewer snowplow operators than it needs, the agency said. A full staff typically consists of 1,200 positions.

Prior to the pandemic, the agency said it was often close to fully staffed for winter storms. Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said last month his agency is “several hundred employees” below what’s required to cover more than one shift in a statewide storm.

“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,” McKenna said. Of course, exactly how much snow will fall in region this winter is unknown.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects warmer-than-average temperatures across Kansas and Missouri. Above normal precipitation is expected in Missouri, while forecasters anticipate normal levels of precipitation in Kansas. MoDOT has lost about 700 employees so far in 2021, about 100 more than it usually loses in a full year, agency spokeswoman Lisa Horn said.

The department has only been able to replace about 500 of the lost workers this year. Underscoring the turnover, about 20% of Missouri plow operators have less than one year of experience, according to Becky Allmeroth, MoDOT chief safety and operations officer.

Employers across the country have had difficulty attracting and retaining workers in recent months and government agencies are no exception. Prisons, state-run hospitals and other departments have all experienced staffing shortages.


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