State works to replace snowplow drivers

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- As snow begins to fall in Illinois, the state is scrambling to find people to clean it off the highways.

According to the state's Department of Transportation, more than a fifth of the agency's snow plow operators -- 480 -- are joining the thousands of state employees taking advantage of a pension buyout put in place earlier this year to save Illinois money.

That has raised concerns about the safety of roads in Illinois for a snowy season that has already arrived.

The concern is not so much that there won't be enough snowplow drivers. Officials say they've heard from plenty of people looking to get hired and IDOT spokesman Dick Adorjan said he thinks all the jobs will be filled by the end of the month.

Instead, the worries center on the new drivers behind the wheel. Some wonder if their skills -- or lack of them -- will leave motorists trying to maneuver on more treacherous roads than in winters past.

"I think that's an extremely legitimate concern," state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, who sits on the House committee that oversees IDOT's budget. "When you are trying to clear roadways in hazardous weather conditions with new people... the expertise may not be there and it may take time to replace that expertise."

Adorjan acknowledged that Brady raises a legitimate concern. "People think you just get behind the wheel of a truck. But these vehicles really have sophisticated hydraulic controls," he said.

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