Reporting Vince Gerasole
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CHICAGO (CBS) – There hasn’t been much snow on Illinois roads this winter, but the state has a whole lot of snow plows and has been paying hundreds of seasonal plow drivers thousands of dollars a month.
As CBS 2′s Vince Gerasole reports, traffic on Chicago’s roadways was moving just fine on an unusually warm day on Tuesday, but at 23 Illinois Department of Transportation facilities in the Chicago area, hundreds of plows sat motionless, waiting for a snow job.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said, “We prepare for the worst.”
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Although Illinois has barely seen Old Man Winter’s traditional grip on state roads, some 400 permanent workers have been on hand to operate state snow plows in the Chicago area.
Even so, since November, IDOT has hired hundreds more seasonal plow operators; something it does nowhere else in the state.
Even though there’s been only a trace of snow in Chicago so far, Tridgell said “We do need them. Even though it … has been a mild winter so far, that can change in extremely short order.”
At first, the numbers seem staggering: 577 seasonal operators at peak, earning $4,083 a month, for a total of $2.3 million every 30 days.
Tridgell said, with more than 9,000 lane miles to clear in six counties, it’s a necessary expense.
Without making those hires, if there was a big snowstorm, “It would not be a pretty picture,” Tridgell said. “We likely would have snow and ice covered roads for days at a time.”
Tridgell added that the seasonal workers have “afforded us the opportunity to do many things that we have, maybe, some more difficulty keeping up with.”
For example, some crews were out and about on Tuesday, tending to a mudslide problem at an emergency pullover and trimming back brush from the roadside. IDOT argued the millions spent on the seasonal workers saves millions more in the long run.
“By not hiring a full-time permanent staff, we’re saving the state approximately $7 million a year in salary and benefits,” Tridgell said.
By April, the temporary workers will be out of a job. Conditions are different in the city of Chicago, as the Department of Streets and Sanitation has a full complement of garbage truck workers who switch over to snow plow operations when needed.