Road Commission Staffing Levels Back to 1960s
Michigan's economic realities have caught up with its road agencies -- and the evidence of that may be visible in the Road Commission’s ability to fight ice and snow this year. Our revenues have been stagnant for 10 years and actually less than revenues received in 2003, while many of our expenses have increased at double- and triple-digit rates. We have had no choice but to reduce staff; we’ve had to respond to the realities of Michigan's economy. Unless critical to operation, the road commission has not been filling positions when employees retire or leave.
Washtenaw County Road Commission’s (WCRC) current staffing levels are the lowest the agency has seen since the late 1950s or early 1960s. Overall, WCRC is down 55 staffers since 2006 (our highest level of employment) with 11 fewer employees available to drive salt trucks/snowplows this year.
Certainly WCRC has become more efficient over the last 50 years, and advancements in technology have allowed the agency to do more work with fewer people. However, maintaining the roads in Washtenaw County is a much larger job today than it was 50 years ago. With the vastly expanding road miles, coupled with additional lanes on our roads, has increased by 30% yet WCRC is doing it with a staffing level not seen in over 50 years.
Today, WCRC is responsible for providing winter maintenance on approximately 1,653 centerline miles of county roads and 581 lane miles of state trunkline roads within the county, outside of the cities and villages. These roads include state trunklines, paved and unpaved county roads, and public subdivision streets.
Consider the facts in the table below:
“We have reduced our full time staff by more than 48 percent in the last six years, and many of the workers we have lost served as snowplow drivers in the winter,” stated Jim Harmon, Director of Operations. The operations department has 15 vacancies - mostly due to retirements - and two workers off because of injuries.
Because of the hiring freeze for full time employees, Harmon currently has just 50 operations workers to face the winter season. Of the 50, four are allocated strictly to night patrol operations, leaving 46 to handle daytime shifts. Of those 46 workers, two of them work in yards loading the trucks with salt, leaving 44 employees to handle the 46 snow routes. It leaves no slack or backup if even one employee becomes ill.
We will make every attempt to clear the roads as we always have. However, it is possible that it will take multiple days to clean up after a large storm. Our initial storm response should remain consistent, but when the first shift is required to take a break, there will be no back-up drivers available. That means it will take us longer to cleanup back roads and subdivision streets. We will continue to do the best we can with the resources available, however, “We want the public to have a realistic expectation. Because we have staffing challenges and an aging fleet, the level of service delivery will be affected,” Harmon said.
The Washtenaw County Road Commission is ready to do everything we can within our physical and financial resources to keep the roads in a safe and reasonable condition for public travel this winter. “We have an incredible group of employees. They’re part of this community. They are experienced professional operators,” Harmon said. “They’re all going to do the best they can under the circumstances.” But motorists must also do their part to be prepared for the challenges of winter driving.