© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

WYDOT is struggling with staffing shortages and inflation

I-80 in winter
Tom Kelly
Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A winter storm blows snow across I-80 near Elk Mountain in southern Wyoming. Staffing shortages have increased workloads on existing WYDOT employees, including snowplow drivers.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is struggling with staffing shortages and inflation issues – that’s led to delays of various projects. And though there are a few hundred vacancies statewide, some of the WYDOT’s five districts currently have a larger number of unfilled jobs compared to other areas.

“Statewide, WYDOT has…2,047 positions, roughly a little over 300 vacancies right now,” said Scott Taylor, an engineer for district 4 which covers northeast Wyoming.

District 4 has the most vacancies of any district in the state – around 40 of the 170 total positions are needing to be filled. This is particularly true in maintenance and construction positions. Obtaining parts for broken equipment has also proven challenging due to long wait, which has led to WYDOT employees driving to obtain parts to expedite repairs.

“I've never seen this amount of 40 [vacant positions],” he said. “For a while, there were [around] 33 [or] 34, then we got it down to about 20, 18, 19. About a year and a half ago, then it really increased. [In] mid-winter, it really started to go back up to the 30s and the 40s, and then the most we had [was] 44 in May.”

Taylor attributes the difficulty in hiring in district 4 to the higher salaries offered by employers in the local energy industry, something that also affects southwest Wyoming. High housing prices in places such as Buffalo and Sheridan have added challenges as well.

These staffing shortages led to delays in mowing highway rights of way, fixing fences and plowing snow.

“Workers are enticed to go to the local industry in Campbell County because our $22 an hour … for our CDL drivers and our maintenance workers is sometimes half of what they can get in the [energy] industry,” Taylor said.

Inflation has also caused some delays due to the increased costs of goods and materials. Taylor said Wyoming receives several hundred million dollars from the federal government for various projects, of which 10 percent is matched with state funds.

“Since May, we had to delay about $70 million worth of projects statewide,” he said. “Because of that, we just didn't have enough money to [do] all our planned projects.”

Taylor said the expenses for materials used in construction, such as the hot plant mix for asphalt, increased in cost. Oil used in the asphalt binder – which holds aggregate materials together – has also seen cost increases from between $450 to $600 per ton to between $900 to $1,000 per ton, though the price has come down recently.

“Other items that have gone up are our milling operations for our mill and overlay jobs. Fencing, guardrail [and]structural steel for bridges is almost doubled per pound, too,” Taylor said. “Those types of things have really hurt us bad.”

Districts in the southeast and southwest have also experienced more unfilled positions than those in northwest or central Wyoming, Taylor said.

“We appreciate the traveling public just being mindful and understanding the current situation and that we're doing the best we can with what we have,” said Laura Dalles, public relations specialist for WYDOT district 4. “Our guys that are on our crews take a lot of pride in ownership and working for WYDOT. So, they're here for the long haul, and I think that makes a big difference.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
Related Content