PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The plan for removing snow and ice from South Dakota’s highways this winter has a new X factor.
State Department of Transportation officials presented the plan this week. Among the 113 pages is a first: A section specifically on COVID-19, in case the potentially deadly disease finds its way into the field staff, and truck drivers can’t report for duty.
The coronavirus has already forced the department to make a significant change. For the first time in years, there wasn’t an October ROADeo training competition for snowplow drivers. “With COVID, we decided to not hold that,” Tony Ondricek told the state Transportation Commission.
Ondricek said the winter plan has responses for COVID-19, which the construction and maintenance engineer said has “raised serious concerns.”
“We might have to work with limited crews,” he said.
Among new steps are a “COVID Continuity of Operation Incentive Payment” that would encourage volunteers to relocate to fill roles in other shops or locations, as well as paying travel expenses in advance. Each regional office is keeping a list of employees who have commercial driver licenses but aren’t snowplow operators, so that they could be called to action.
The department is providing guidance to best practices by employees to prevent spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, and will consider allowing certain staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 to continue working to deliver critical services, if they don’t show symptoms.
The department also is putting more emphasis on filling seasonal and reserve plow-operator positions and on adding additional staff when available.
“We’re just really trying to stress the seriousness,” Ondricek said.
The department has $22.5 million available for this winter. Last winter $21.1 million was budgeted but costs totaled $22.7 million.
Among the improvements intended this winter:
— Better information services for motorists via phone, website maps and displays at interstate rest areas.
— Three more tow-plows that allow trucks to remove snow and ice from two lanes simultaneously. The department will have 21 available this winter.
— More data-collection devices on trucks to transfer information back and forth about conditions.
— 25 trucks with blue lights to make them more visible.
— Extending the Sioux Falls metro area north on I-29 to Brookings.
The hours of operation will again be 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. unless conditions are too severe. Mike Vehle of Mitchell, the commission’s chairman, said that’s longer than some others. “I think that’s an important thing to remember when you’re comparing other states,” Vehle said.
State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist, who retires in November, said a logistics study planned for the spring will look at such things as where the department has its field shops throughout South Dakota, He said North Dakota went through a similar study.