City of RS, WYDOT Work to Address Snow Removal Challenges

City of RS, WYDOT Work to Address Snow Removal Challenges

A City of Rock Springs snow plow makes its way down Bordeaux Lane. SweetwaterNOW photo by Stephanie Thompson

SWEEETWATER COUNTY — With Sweetwater County continuing to see snow almost every week, the City of Rock Springs and the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) are trying their best to keep up with snow removal for various reasons.

Paul Kauchich, City of Rock Springs director of engineering and operations, said if the city continues to receive snow storm after snow storm like the previous months, it will go over the city’s budget.

“If it continues the way it is, we are going to exceed what was budgeted for that portion of the city,” Kauchich said.

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Kauchich said the city’s resources have diminished or declined due to budget cuts over the last few years. Due to these cuts, the department has continued to stick to its snow removal priority plan and residential streets are not a priority. Some of the priority streets include main streets, such as Elk Street and Dewar Drive and in front of school buildings and the hospital. However, the city just can’t plow streets like it used to, he said.

“We may not get into residential streets for a period of time or at all,” Kauchich said. “We do try to get to the larger residential streets.”

“We don’t have the resources, the materials, to do that,” Kauchich said about plowing like the city used to.

The type of storm doesn’t matter. It could be 1 inch or 5 inches, the process is the same for plowing the streets and it takes resources to keep up. While personnel has been cut back through budget cuts, the department have enough employees to operate the equipment it has, he said.

WYDOT District 3 Engineer John Eddins said WYDOT has also been facing some challenges this winter. Currently, Sweetwater County alone is short 13 maintenance employees, also called snow-plow operators, and district-wide WYDOT is short 36 snow-plow operators. In Rock Springs, there are currently six snow-plow operators and there should be 13.

“They are out there way longer than they should be,” Eddins said. “The few employees we do have we’re overworking and they’re probably tired.”

A lot of the personnel shortages has to do with the economy and how the local labor markets across the state can pay more than WYDOT can.

“We’ve had a hard time hiring and retaining because our pay doesn’t compete with private industry,” Eddins said.

They are short of staff for keeping Interstate 80 in particular clear in Rock Springs, Patrick Draw, and Wamsutter, however they have a full staff in Evanston, Lyman, and Granger that come and help out. Sometimes crews from Laramie also travel to Sweetwater County to help. It all depends on where the storm hits. They have even had help come from as far as Sheridan and Buffalo to keep the roads clear.

“We’re moving people around to fill where we are short,” Eddins said.

So far, the district has used more salt, sand, and other materials this year and it did throughout the entire year last year. As for the budget, they have already spent half of their snow-removal budget.

“We will overrun our budget,” Eddins said. “But we’re not going to quit plowing snow.”

WYDOT is working with the state to try and see about raising the wages for its maintenance employees, but for now they will continue doing the best they can with the employees they have, Eddins said.

“They’re devoted employees. They are much appreciated,” Eddins said. “They do a good job in my opinion.”

Both the City of Green River and Sweetwater County are doing alright as far as snow removal, budget, and obtaining enough materials. “Overall, I would say we are on pace with the snow removal budget for this time of the season,” Mark Westenskow, City of Green River public works director, said.

According to Westenskow, the city budgeted about $56,000 for snow removal in Operations and Maintenance, with about that much again for personnel. While the city is okay on the personnel budget, they are a little ahead on spending from the Operations and Maintenance budget at about 63 percent. However, the city did just refill the salt shed so it has materials on hand.

“Snow removal can be a funny thing to predict, and each storm is different,” Westenskow said. “Our situation could change with the right or wrong combination of storms, but so far so good this winter.”