Highlighting the efforts to protect our city each winter.

It’s hard to believe that winter is almost upon us again. This time of year brings us the joy of the holidays, and the family events we all look forward to attending. While I think most people enjoy a snowfall on Christmas, winter — and the colder weather — also brings us the threat of snow and ice. The almanacs are predicting a cold and snowy winter here in the Midwest, with temperatures colder than normal in our area and above-average snowfall. Some predictions claim this will be the snowiest winter in recent memory. Slick and dangerous roads are one of the major traffic hazards we face during the winter months. According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, snow and freezing temperatures were a factor in 1,850 traffic accidents last year, with 34 of those resulting in fatalities. The danger of driving in the winter is apparent.

To combat this, Missouri has a fleet of 1,500-plus snowplows and vehicles to help clear and salt our high-ways. Although it may seem odd, juice from sugar beets gets added to salt brine and spread on our roadways. The beet juice serves a dual purpose. It makes the saltless corrosive to vehicles and also lowers the temperature at which the salt brine is effective, melting road ice and snow in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt, alone, is only effective in temperatures down to around 25 degrees. For even colder days, calcium chloride is added, allowing the salt to work down to approximately -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Currently, our state has a full stock of salt brine and enough trucks to tackle any winter storm. Over the last few years, however, Missouri has faced the same challenge with snow removal as other neighboring states. There aren’t enough snowplow drivers.

Like most private businesses, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has seen a large turnover in employees the last several years. Last winter, MoDOT was down 400 employees. Driving a snow-plow requires a commercial drivers license (CDL), and increasing wages for CDL drivers have lured many of the state’s plow drivers to the private sector. This isn’t limited to Missouri, as Kansas, Illinois, Colorado, Idaho, and practically every neighboring state is in the same predicament. It was estimated that there was a short-age of 80,000 commercial drivers last year nationwide. MoDOT is taking steps to help recruit new “Winter Weather Warriors” for the upcoming season. They offer a $3-per-hour bonus to their drivers while operating in wintery weather, helping to make the pay more competitive with that of neighboring states. There is a campaign to recruit new drivers, in hopes of encouraging anyone who has obtained or is considering obtaining a CDL to bring their skills to bear against old man winter. There is also a plan in place to move drivers between zones so that efforts can be concentrated where the snow and ice is heaviest.

If you or anyone you know is thinking about becoming a plow driver for MoDOT, there are many advantages. It is more than a seasonal job and could be the path to a lifelong career. I wish you all happy holidays, and may God continue to bless you, our state, and our nation.

Senator Mike Bernskoetter took office in 2019, serving the 6th Senatorial District. He also serves as a lector, Eucharistic, and hospitality minister atImmaculate Conception Parish.