CDOT initiative combats housing affordability, availability in mountain communities

Projects in Frisco and Fairplay "advancing pretty rapidly"
CDOT housing initiative combats housing affordability and availability in mountain communities
Posted at 10:48 PM, Nov 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 00:48:03-04

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. — Life in the high country is beautiful, but housing can be competitive and expensive.

William Dyke lives in Dillon and works for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). When he describes working with large equipment, like snowplows, he compares his excitement to a young child with a Tonka truck.

“It's a ski industry up here, so it does get very busy. And plowing isn't very easy when there's heavy, heavy traffic, but we do it," Dyke said with a smile from the CDOT facility in Silverthorne. “Mother Nature can do crazy things. So we come in, we're prepared for the worst and hope for the best."

John Lorme, director of maintenance and operations for CDOT, said he is essentially in charge of winter operations throughout the state. He said due to staffing shortages, CDOT moves employees around the state, depending on where the greatest need is at any given moment.

CDOT is appropriately staffed heading into the winter months, with around 1,600 maintenance workers in Colorado, according to Lorme. He said they are down around 300 positions or so.

“Highway maintenance is usually about a 10% vacancy rate throughout the entire industry. We're currently hovering around 23-24% systemwide," Lorme said over a Zoom call. “We're always looking for for snowplow operators.”

Those with CDOT have noticed two huge challenges in Colorado's high country for employees: housing affordability and availability. Lorme said some locations suffer from both obstacles.

“When you're an entry-level snowplow operator or entry-level maintainer coming to work for CDOT, and you're starting in around $20 an hour, it's hard for that individual to survive and in places like Silverthorne and Frisco and Breckenridge," Lorme explained. “One of the ways that we can combat that, or try to overcome that, is to provide workforce housing, and that gives a maintainer a place to live and start a family and be part of the community, and plow snow where they actually live and work.”

The biggest goal for Lorme is employee retention, and hiring comes with its own challenges. He said there have been instances where CDOT has sent job offer letters to some candidates and, "Right before they start, they had to basically cancel on the on the job offer, or turn it down if you will, because they could not locate places to rent or even buy.”

Lorme said the two biggest fully-funded housing projects advancing fairly rapidly for CDOT are in Frisco and Fairplay.

The housing project in Frisco is a partnership with the town on a 22 unit condominium. Lorme said both CDOT and the Town of Frisco have each invested 50% into the project.

He said CDOT is also working with the Town of Fairplay to build individual family homes, using property that once housed a maintenance facility.

Lorme toured a housing complex in Buena Vista as an example of the kind of housing they hope to provide their employees. He said they do not intend to build in Buena Vista at the moment. The next place they hope to build is in the Roaring Fork Valley.