PENNSYLVANIA (WTAJ) – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) officials say getting ready for the winter season has been a year-long process for decades. But, like most businesses, they’re facing a new challenge the past couple of winters.

“We’re not immune to the worker shortages, especially when it comes to CDL operators,” Dave Kammerer, Maintenance Executive of PennDOT District 9 said.

He said highways like I-99 and I-80 and major roads in the more densely-populated areas get first dibs on plow trucks when the snow comes. Then, priorities shift to a specific order given to each truck.

“We have contingency plans all the way down to 15% of the workforce missing,” Kammerer said. “If we’re running into staffing shortages, it’s as simple as a call-off, somebody’s sick, somebody can’t make it to work, we have our plans in place of what other trucks are going to cover those routes.”

Kammerer said PennDOT is attending recruiting events and providing incentives like extended benefits and paid time off in an attempt to get more workers. He said they’re in better shape than they have been in the past two years.

But while they continue to work with a smaller staff, he said it’s a matter of planning and adjusting when needed.

“We have a plan in place with our services to extend crews if we need to,” Acting District Executive Vince Greenland said. “We’ll bring county crews into other counties.”

“Right now we’re doing truck and loader training,” Kammerer said. “Workers are getting some experience with the truck. We also do dry runs where the operators go out and run their routes that they’re going to be plowing and identify where there’s going to be any hazards or tight spots.”

PennDOT’s preparation isn’t going unnoticed. The department received a 2023 Ambassadors of Excellence Award from the Weather-Ready Nation Program from the National Weather Service.

“We pick out one per office each year across the country,” Jonathan Guseman, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with NWS in State College said. “We pick one that’s gone above and beyond and exemplified the pristine nature of doing extra with us.”

Guseman said his office works with PennDOT constantly, especially heading into and during the weather season. He said they work together to figure out roads where they should reduce speed limits and create digital messaging signs to warn drivers if a potential snow squall is expected.

“They help us prepare graphics and really exploit that message out for folks,” Guseman said. “Particularly on I-80, we’ve worked with them a lot. If PennDOT can get drivers to slow down, that really prevents or, at least, lessens the impact of a large, chain-reaction-type accidents.”

Get daily updates on local news, weather and sports by signing up for the WTAJ Newsletter

You can apply to work for PennDOT’s Winter Maintenance team and learn more about their open positions here.