The weather has left many drivers spinning their wheels this winter. Even plow trucks have found conditions nearly impossible to navigate at times.
"It's just definitely going from one extreme to the other," said Wayne Gammell with VTrans.
Crews battled ice-jams and flooding from rain over the weekend. But just weeks ago they fought sub-zero temperatures and limbs cracking under the weight of snow and ice. Before hitting the road Friday, VTrans administrators briefed lawmakers about the challenges they run into.
"So far this year we've used about 50,000 tons of salt -- that's pretty much half of what we normally would use through the whole winter and we're not half-way through," Gammell said. "We try not to use sand unless we need to, but all this cold weather we've been using sand a lot."
Mother Nature has kept crews driving around the clock, and that's straining supplies, budgets, and workers. The agency only has about 1.2 drivers for every plow, meaning some find themselves behind the wheel for a 24-plus hour shift when wintry weather strikes. VTrans says finding drivers for vacancies is tough because of retirements and better packages offered by some towns.
Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland): Do you ever sleep?
Ernie Patonoe/VTrans: No we don't... ...I would say the troops are getting -- we call it the spring-time blues -- and they're here already.
Towns frequently seek assistance from VTans, and expansion of the ski industry -- especially in the Northeast Kingdom -- is driving more demand for resources high up in the mountains as more busses join the commute. Other drivers can pose risks, as well as provide positive and negative reinforcement. "When there's a flood and we're out there we get thumbs-up constantly. When there's a 12-inch snowstorm we get thumbs up constantly. When there's a quarter-inch snowstorm it's a different finger," Patonoe told lawmakers.
Budget-writers and weary crews can only hope the weather is more cooperative down the road.
Crews are hopeful that FEMA reimbursement will help cover some of December's ice-storm cleanup costs. VTrans officials did say they found it difficult to find private tree trimmers to supplement the agency's manpower because power crews had already retained their services.
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