Privatizing Winter Maintenance

Original Message: (Clear Roads, 2011)

It is anticipated that NYSDOT may soon be asked to consider privatizing winter maintenance operations as a way to save the state money during these difficult financial times. Over the past several years, I have heard that privatizing winter operations had a negative impact on level of service and ultimately costs more than state forces.  I have also heard that, in some cases, privatizing works fairly well. I am in need of information related to any experiences you have had with actual privatizing of winter maintenance or any arguments that you may have used to encourage or discourage privatization. Also, if you have reports or studies comparing actual or anticipated costs of privatizing vs. state forces operations, I would appreciate that information, as well as any other information you may wish to share.

- Mike Lashmet, New York State Department of Transportation (mlashmet@dot.state.ny.us)

Response Messages

(8 responses)

It looks like we are going to give it a try this winter here in Missouri. It started out as a pilot in one location, but we are already looking at increasing the pilot to include several different areas. We have not yet gone out to bid. Maybe I will have some information this time next year.

- Tim Jackson, Missouri Department of Transportation (timothy.jackson@modot.mo.gov)

Hold onto your hat. The slippery slope started that way in Massachusetts!

- Paul Brown, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (paul.brown@state.ma.us)

This sounds like a very good item for discussion at our summer meeting. We are working on this also, and I can eventually provide an update. We contract out approximately 30% of our routes currently via municipal winter service agreements and rented dump trucks. We are very interested in what others have done or are doing.

- Charlie Goodhart, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (cgoodhart@pa.gov)

I wholeheartedly concur.  As with the environmental issues, if we don't get ahead of the contract based snow removal trend, then we will be in a world of hurt a decade or so from now (or possibly as little as one budget cycle).

- Caleb Dobbins, New Hampshire Department of Transportation (cdobbins@dot.state.nh.us)

This article from Transportation Research Board cites examples from several states: http://trb.metapress.com/content/gq02n3v183k31553/fulltext.pdf. I think it may be a good resource for you.

- Tim Peters, Illinois Department of Transportation (tim.peters@illinois.gov)

We recently shared a 2007 maintenance outsourcing study done for us by AIT (Wilf Nixon, Bob Stowe, and Ken Kirkland) with New Hampshire DOT, which was facing a similar move to outsource most or all maintenance functions. This study outlined the experiences and practice of 14 states and 3 provinces with respect to outsourcing winter operations and other maintenance functions. It also updated a study that WSDOT performed internally in 2004. I can bring copies to the summer meeting. Purdue University performed a more recent study titled Cost Savings Analysis of Performance-Based Contracts for Highway Maintenance Operations, which can be found here: http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=1084328. This study was not specific to winter operations, but offers interesting analysis of cost factors to be considered in outsourcing. It is probably time to discuss a new study to update the 2007 AIT study with more recent information. We do not currently outsource any maintenance activity, but there is a sense of inevitability as to the continuing pressure to consider and implement privatization where it “makes sense”. As Paul noted, once you embark on that path, there is no turning back.

- Monty Mills, Washington State Department of Transportation (millsm@wsdot.wa.gov)

Ohio does not contract out our winter maintenance. The following report and contacts in Virginia may assist you in gathering information. In October 2009, I was part of a team that investigated winter best practices for NCHRP. The subject of contracting was looked at. It was decided that we should visit Virginia DOT because they were contracting out winter maintenance on portions of their interstate system. At that time we did not find comparable data, but we did comment in the management issues portion of the report items to be concerned about when deciding to contract in or contract out. Domestic Scan 07-03 is available at: http://144.171.11.40/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=1570.

- Dave Ray, Ohio Department of Transportation (david.ray@dot.state.oh.us)

As mentioned already, a study was done in Indiana by Purdue University, and it was determined that outsourcing could not compete with INDOT employees on service or cost.

- Phil Ivy, Indiana Department of Transportation (pivy@indot.in.gov)