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  • National Coalition for Open Roads Encourages Utah Legislature to Address Road Budget 

    Some parts of Utah saw 900 inches of snow this past winter

    (Washington DC) A national organization is encouraging Utah lawmakers to reallocate millions of dollars to help state transportation officials deal with the snow removal costs and repairs to roads caused by flooding and landslides.

    “We commend Governor Cox for calling for a special session so that legislators can take action to address the needs of the state transportation department. Utah set a new record for snowfall during the 2022-2023 winter season, with one ski resort receiving over 900 inches – 75 feet – of snow.  Those record-breaking levels caused the state to spend about 70 percent more than was originally budgeted for snow removal,” said Harvey Scott, president of the National Coalition for Open Roads, an organization that advocates for responsible policies and cost-effective winter road maintenance practices to ensure roads remain open and safe.  \

    During a special session on Wednesday, Utah legislators will consider several bills, including House Joint Resolution 101, which would extend an existing emergency declaration flood mitigation and infrastructure rehabilitation from the current May 18 deadline to April 15, 2023.  The legislature will also consider H.B. 1001, which would allow the Utah Department of Transportation to move $20 million from construction projects to pay for the snow removal costs and current mitigation needs.

    “Utah’s snow-water equivalent was about 200 percent of normal at the start of this month and that’s resulting in flooding in certain parts of the state. That damage has to be paid for, so it makes sense for the state legislature to approve the shift of money to address today’s needs.  This situation also underscores why all states need to have money in reserve and budget appropriately,” Scott added.

    In the western United States this past winter season, parts of Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington set new snowfall records during the 2022-23 season.   The National Coalition for Open Roads was established in 2020 to encourage responsible policies and cost-effective winter road maintenance practices to ensure roads remain open and safe. The organization has offices in Washington, DC, and Utah.

  • Former Utah Governor Calls for Drivers to Slow Down

    Utah Valley Chamber Joins National Effort for Better Winter Road Safety

    (Salt Lake City) Former Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce have joined forces with the National Coalition for Open Roads (NCFOR) to encourage safer winter driving by the public and a continued commitment towards winter road maintenance by state, county, and city officials.

    “In the past few weeks, we’ve had a driver cited for going 102 miles per hour in winter conditions and at least three state police cars have been hit during recent storms.  Drivers need to slow down. With more snow on the way, let’s be our best selves behind the wheel, especially during tricky road conditions,” said Herbert who served as Utah’s governor from 2009 through 2021 and now serves as the executive chairman of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

    According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 1,700 Americans are killed each year due to accidents involving snowy, slushy, and icy roads. 

    Utah’s neighboring state of Wyoming has the highest percentage of fatal crashes due to snowy road conditions, averaging 34 fatalities per one million registered drivers annually based on an analysis by CarInsuranceComparison.com. Rounding out the top five states with the highest percentage of fatalities due to winter road accidents are, in order, North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont, and Alaska. Utah comes in at twenty-second.

    “Our positive ranking is a tribute to state legislators, transportation officials, the Highway Patrol, and snowplow drivers who are doing a good job, but with Utah’s continued growth it feels like we have to sprint just to keep up. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the National Coalition for Open Roads. Everyone has a role to play,” Herbert said.

    While Utah is succeeding in many areas, NCFOR officials noted that Utah has double the winter road death fatality rate of Colorado which averages 1.41 deaths per one million registered drivers.  Utah’s fatality rate is 2.95 which ranks lower than Idaho with a winter road fatality rate of 4.8. 

    NCFOR officials recently warned western states, including Utah, about an ongoing shortage of snowplow drivers which may be a factor in winter road deaths and offered suggestions to 

    address the issue, including increasing snowplow driver salaries, creating housing allowances to recruit and retain drivers in high-cost areas, and considering offering hardship pay for positions in remote areas.

    Curtis Blair, President and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber said that better winter roads have a direct impact on businesses and individuals.  

    “Saving lives is the number one priority, no question. NCFOR is also trying to help address the costs to business and people because of delayed goods, lost wages, and higher insurance rates due to bad driving and poorly maintained winter roads.  The quicker roads are treated and plowed, the better for business and public safety,” Blair said.

    A 2010 study by HIS Global Insight found that closed roads and highways from a major winter snowstorm could cost the state of Utah $66 million a day.  “With inflation and higher fuel costs, we expect the numbers are significantly higher today,” said Blair. He added that the Federal Highway Administration’s website reports that each year trucking companies lose $2.2 to $3.5 billion dollars due to weather-related delays.

    “When state transportation departments have adequate funds, they can hire the people they need to get the job done. Right now, that’s a challenge legislators need to address,” said Roger Knoph, chairman of the National Coalition for Open Roads, which has offices in Utah and Washington, DC.   

    The National Coalition for Open Roads’ mission is to help build bridges between the public and public institutions and educate all parties relating to the impacts of winter storms on safety, the economy, and the environment. 

    For more information on how to join NCFOR, please visit us at www.NCFOR.us.

  • Snowplow Drivers in Western States in Short Supply This Year

    Recommendations Made to Increase Numbers and Improve Public Safety

    (Washington, DC) A national transportation group is warning that Americans across the country will likely face long delays this winter as states struggle to find enough snowplow drivers.

    “State transportation officials have repeatedly told us they simply can’t fill many driver positions. In fact, one official recently said he needs 140 new snowplow drivers but due to low wages and other concerns he is having trouble hiring anyone,” said Doug Anderson, the Utah-based incoming chairman of the National Coalition for Open Roads (NCFOR).

    The organization was formed two years ago to advocate for cost-effective winter road maintenance practices to ensure roads remain open and safe. According to Indeed.com, the average wage for snowplow drivers is over $25 an hour, but for most state-run transportation departments in western states the starting wage is just $19 an hour.

    “That’s simply not competitive, especially when many fast-food places are offering close to similar pay. In one ski resort community, we’ve been told that dishwashers are being paid $26 an hour,” said Roger Knoph, the current chairman of the NCFOR board, who lives in Colorado.

    Many transportation departments have begun high school-focused recruiting efforts after states lowered the minimum age to drive a snowplow to 18 years of age. Several state governments have recently begun paying thousands of dollars for the training needed to help the new drivers qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) required to operate a large vehicle and plow roads.

    “States wouldn’t even consider hiring anyone without a CDL license just a few years ago.  Now they are accepting just about anyone,” Anderson said.  “The downside is that once they get that commercial license, some of the new hires are leaving for much higher paying jobs.”

    To help with hiring and retention needs for snowplow drivers, NCFOR recommends governors and state legislators consider:

    • Increasing snowplow driver salaries to be more competitive with the private sector. 
      • This includes offering signing bonuses to new hires with a requirement that they stay on the job for six months.  
        • NCFOR recommends that those who leave state employment early must repay the bonus and any costs associated with obtaining a CDL.
    • Creating housing allowances to recruit and retain snowplow drivers living in high-cost areas.  
      • This would be similar to housing allowances offered by the federal government to military personnel and certain other critical employees.
    • Considering offering hardship pay for positions in remote areas where hiring and keeping drivers has been problematic

    There is another step the trade association recommends.

    “One official told us that one the biggest problems they have with hiring new snowplow drivers is a requirement that all state employees be vaccinated for Covid.  Now that the Covid has waned, we think removing the vaccine requirement would bring added safety to the public by bringing on more snowplow drivers to keep our roads safe,” said Peter Novak, another member of the board.

    "One official recently told he needs 140 new snowplow drivers but due to low wages and other concerns he is having trouble hiring anyone."

    Doug Anderson, Incoming Chair of NCFOR

    According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, data from 2007 through 2016 found that snow and slushy roads contributed to 562,182 crashes, 138,735 injuries, and over 1,700 deaths.

    “We want elected officials to recognize that the underfunding of winter highway maintenance means lives lost and sometimes horrible injuries.  The cost to business is also significant.  A single day of roads closed due to snow can cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue,” said Rhett Roberts, a founding member of the coalition. 

    The National Coalition for Open Roads (NCFOR) was formed in 2020 to advocate for the most responsible policies and cost-effective winter road maintenance practices to ensure that the nation’s winter roads remain open and safe. ​ It has offices in Washington DC and Utah.

    Starting wages for snowplow drivers in western states:

    • California $26.00
    • Colorado $21.24
    • Idaho $18.15
    • Montana $24.00 
    • Nebraska $17.90
    • Nevada $17.50 
    • Oregon $18.80 
    • Utah $17.60
    • Washington $20.52
    • Wyoming $18.14
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