Snow plow truck driver shortage may lead to delays in clearing Milwaukee streets

NOW: Snow plow truck driver shortage may lead to delays in clearing Milwaukee streets

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Before you know it, we'll be in the thick of a Wisconsin winter and snow plows will be busy at work. But Milwaukee city officials are worried they won't have enough workers to drive them, and that could lead to a delay in service.

"We're trying to plan as we do to deal with the unexpected," said Jeff Polenske, commissioner for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works. "We will be out there clearing snow, salting the streets as we always do, but there may be some storms that might slow us down a little bit."

Polenske said DPW has 80 vacancies right now and usually has about 20 heading into winter.

"I thought, 'Boy, that's a problem.' They said, 'Yes, that is a problem.' We may experience delayed snow plowing. We may experience a problem of having trucks gassed, idling, ready to roll, nobody to drive them," said Alderman Robert Bauman from Milwaukee's District 4.

Bauman said he's concerned police and firefighters won't be able to get through, and people won't be able to get to work or the grocery store.

He expects the problem to be the worst in residential neighborhoods with narrow streets and lots of parked cars.

Bauman points to two years ago when it snowed heavily on Halloween.

"If you have successive snowstorms, which we did have last February, and if we don't get the road cleared initially, that next storm will just pile on top of ice," he said.

Polenske said the problem is not unique to Milwaukee. It stems from a shortage of drivers with commercial drivers licenses. That problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic and labor shortage.

"Industrywide there's some shortages with CDLs, and I think other agencies that are looking for drivers are struggling just as we are," Polenske said.

He wants to improve the pay to be more competitive and plans to move people around from other parts of the department to help fill the gaps.

Bauman recommends that people at home shovel their parking spaces when they're shoveling their sidewalks. He also said people should have patience.

"Hope for the best here, but prepare for the worst," Bauman said.

CBS 58 asked Polenske if the vaccine mandate is contributing to the problem, and he said "not at this time." He said he'll have a better idea at the end of this week.

City employees are supposed to provide proof of vaccine or get a reasonable accommodation by Friday.

To view current openings or apply, visit the department's website.

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