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NH DOT to raise snow plow rental rates as it struggles to recruit drivers and equipment

A snow plow on a snowy road in NH
Annie Ropeik
NH snow plow: State safety and transportation leaders urge motorists not to crowd plows. FILE PHOTO

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to republish its reporting.

The state’s Department of Transportation plans to increase hourly rental rates for private contracted winter maintenance equipment as it struggles to compete for drivers with other states, cities and towns, and private companies.

DOT is reporting a shortage of commercial driver’s license holders for state equipment, as well as difficulty attracting private rental equipment to supplement the staffing issues. As a result, the department is slated to raise its hourly rental rates for private contracted rental equipment by 15 percent – equaling an annual average increase of approximately $1.3 million in its rental expenditures.

“Failure to attract internal or rental resources to meet the snow removal needs will likely result in reduced plowing frequency which will translate into longer periods of degraded driving conditions and longer durations before highways are fully treated,” DOT Commissioner William Cass wrote to the Executive Council this month.

DOT has always rented privately owned equipment to assist with maintaining New Hampshire’s highway system. That equipment and its operators have become a fixture the department relies on, it says, to supplement its winter operations workforce. As DOT experiences internal workforce shortages, just as many other industries are, that reliance has grown.

Last February, according to DOT data, the department rented 268 plow trucks, but needed 367 to cover all of its “plow beats.”

“This shortage increases the time it takes for us to respond in ice storms, and increases the snow on the road during snow storms due to other state and rental trucks having to cover multiple beats,” Cass said.

Trying to develop an edge over other opportunities, DOT reviewed its winter equipment rental rates and compared them to other New England states. While the systems in Vermont and Maine weren’t comparable, the department did find Massachusetts pays rental rates that are roughly 64 to 136% higher than New Hampshire’s for 1-ton, 5-ton, and 10-ton plow trucks.

A chart from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation compares its snow plow rental rates to those in Massachusetts. (Screenshot) Many local municipalities in New Hampshire are also paying $115 to $150 an hour for contracted snow removal services

“Better-paying opportunities at municipalities and in Massachusetts further reduces the pool of contractors willing to contract with the department for the same or similar services,” Cass said.

DOT’s increased rates will still be 42 to 105% less than those in Massachusetts, but the department is hopeful the additional dollars will help it secure rental contracts necessary to meet expected winter maintenance service levels.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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