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Some Mass. towns facing snowplow driver shortage; officials warn of potential delays to road clearing

A plow truck in Milton in 2015.Pat Greenhouse/GLOBE STAFF FILE

Some Massachusetts cities and towns face a shortage of snowplow drivers this winter, prompting local officials to warn of possible delays in clearing roads in the event of a big storm.

Officials in Brookline this month released a statement warning residents that due to the “ongoing challenges” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town — like other communities — has experienced “staff shortages” for snow removal that could affect how quickly roads are cleared in the event of a storm.

“Despite these challenges, we are committed to working to clear snow as efficiently and quickly as possible during future storms,” said Brookline Public Works Commissioner Erin Chute Gallentine in the statement. “We thank the community for their understanding and patience as we enter the winter season.”

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Lynn officials also are concerned about their staffing levels.

“We are indeed facing a shortage of plow drivers,” said Lynn Public Works Commissioner Andrew Hall via email recently. “Currently we have 163 contracted drivers to plow the streets of Lynn. I would like to see 90 more. This shortage will result in delays clearing the roads of Lynn.”

Scituate also is facing a shortage, according to Kevin Cafferty, director of public works.

“Yes, we have lost contract snowplow operators and are concerned about it,” Cafferty said via email. “At this time we are still working on attracting drivers like everyone is now. The biggest issue we will face is that plow routes will take longer to complete. There is still the same amount of miles that need to be plowed, just fewer people to do the plowing. People will not get the same service they have been accustomed to getting and will have to wait until we have finished our work.”

Andover is also dealing with a decrease in available plow drivers too, according to Christopher M. Cronin, director of public works.

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“The Town of Andover has contracted with over 40 contractors to provide snow and ice removal services for 2021-2022 snow and ice season,” Cronin said via email recently. “This represents a decrease of approximately 17% from the 2020-2021 season. While we expect the number of available contractors to grow as the season progresses, the challenge to secure enough plows for any given season still remains. Residents and the traveling public should continue to expect a safe road for travel. However, in the event of a significant snowstorm, the time necessary to achieve bare pavement will increase.”

Plymouth’s also slightly off its normal pace of hires, though the situation’s not dire by any means, said Public Works Director Jonathan Beder.

“We’re at 90,” Beder said in a recent phone interview, adding that the South Shore town usually has around 100 contractors in its plow fleet. “I think we’ll be alright. We should be in pretty good shape.”

Asked if the town is still welcoming applicants, Beder said, “Absolutely, the more the merrier. ... We always want to be as prepared as possible.”

Many communities started seeking contractors for the winter season early this year, including Barnstable.

“We were worried about this and preemptively raised our rates earlier this fall to ensure this would not be a problem,” said Barnstable’s Assistant Public Works Director Robert R. Steen via email recently. “As a result, we are short only 17 pieces to date, and still have a few stragglers coming in.”

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At the state level, the Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for clearing state highways, is also seeking additional drivers.

“MassDOT begins preparing for winter operations in June and our program is ready for winter weather with sufficient equipment, staff, and materials,” spokesperson Kristen Pennucci said in a recent statement. “However, MassDOT continues to look for opportunities to supplement and improve our program and invites any company or person who would like to provide these services to apply.”

The state agency said it normally adds vendors and equipment each year to ensure its winter fleet is well-supplied. The agency’s offering an hourly rate of $31.25 for a seasonal CDL driver to operate MassDOT equipment during storms, but significantly higher rates are available depending on the services.

For example, MassDOT said, drivers can earn $190 an hour if they have a 50,000 gross vehicle weight — or GVW — truck with an 11-foot plow and 10-cubic yard spreader. Interested applicants should contact the agency.

In Pittsfield, there are about 32 plow drivers contracted for the winter, though the western Massachusetts city normally hopes to have 40 to 50 drivers available, according to Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales.

The city is divided up into 30 zones — or quadrants — during storms, with plow drivers assigned to specific areas, Morales said in a recent phone interview.

“We have just enough to cover every quadrant,” Morales said, adding that hourly rates range from $75 to $175 depending on the equipment contractors have. “But it’s going to be a little bit harder in terms of logistics.”

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He said applicants are still welcome, and that “if someone midwinter wants to sign up, we’d be happy” to bring them on.

In Fitchburg, Interim Public Works Commissioner Nicholas J. Erickson said recently that his city has 83 drivers signed up to plow this winter, nine fewer than last season.

“We are a little behind, but not by much,” Erickson said via email. “We are also waiting for insurance certifications from a number of additional plow drivers. When those come in, we will likely be at or above the numbers from last season. In order to attract more drivers this year, we increased rates a bit and we designated a higher rate for extended season work.”

In Boston, the city’s public works department recently said it’s received a commitment from its snowplow contractors and the city has the appropriate levels of staffing to operate this winter. The department said contractors are responsible for paying their individual plow drivers and must comply with set living wage standards.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.