JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The director of Missouri’s transportation department is telling crews around the state not to put any chemicals on the roads for fear that they could turn to ice.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), the Missouri National Guard, the State’s Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), and the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) are teaming up to clear roadways and keep drivers safe, but once the snow ends their work isn’t over.
“The snow totals themselves aren’t so bad, but the snow is going to be blowing around and coming up off the ground,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said. “It’s not your typical storm.”
Blowing snow reduces visibility, and wind gusts can cause significant problems for large vehicles like tractor-trailers.
“If they get a 50 to 60 miles per hour wind gust, that could really be difficult for the driver to keep in control,” McKenna said. “The wind with commercial motor vehicles is treacherous.”
While MoDOT has had to treat some ramps and bridges due to the bitter cold, McKenna is telling crews not to put chemicals on the road.
“In these conditions, the best thing to do is not apply anything because we don’t want to melt anything and then have it freeze up,” McKenna said. “It will freeze up very quickly after the initial melt, and that will create more hazardous conditions. We’re really just plowing.”
He said the cold weather could also cause the diesel used for the snowplow to gel up, so crews must constantly keep the trucks warm.
The primary focus of the department is major roadways. Because of it, some workers have had to be pre-positioned.
“We also implemented strike teams that are coming from all different regions of the state, and what they’re really doing is focusing on the I-70 corridor,” McKenna said. “That’s really where we have the most severe turnover and equipment operator shortage.”
The governor activated the National Guard, and McKenna said their job is to help MSHP and MoDOT by responding to stranded drivers and clearing cars off of roadways.
“If there is a big traffic delay or if there’s a road closure or something like that and people get trapped in their vehicles,” McKenna said. “We’re going to ensure people are okay in these low temperatures and those warming stations will be open as needed throughout the state.”
McKenna said MoDOT does communicate with trucking companies to earn them of road conditions. Nearly all of the state is seeing freezing windchills below Thursday night and Friday morning.
At one point this fall, the department was short nearly 1,000 workers for a winter weather event like this. Thursday, Mckenna said that MoDOT has hired 200 new employees within the past month.
“We rarely make progress at this time of the year,” McKenna said. “We’ve got retirees that have come out of retirement to help us, but we’re still significantly below what we really need to the full coverage on the 24-hour basis.”
McKenna said that internal turnover at MoDOT about eight years ago was 10%. Then, within the last four to five years, the turnover rate was about 15%. During the pandemic, the department’s turnover reached an all-time high of 20%.
MoDOT is offering a starting wage between $17.55 and $18.25 per hour, depending on experience and area of operation. The positions are also eligible for $3 to $6 per hour boosts in pay when working winter/emergency operations activities.
Full-time employees receive training and a list of other benefits, including retirement, paid leave, and medical, vision, and dental insurance. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and successfully complete a criminal background check (a misdemeanor or felony conviction is not an automatic restriction to employment).
For those who must travel, drivers are encouraged to check road conditions on MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map which can be found on their website or on the app. https://www.modot.org/traveler-information-map-app