Why Washington State Roads and Passes May Be Closed for Longer and in Worse Conditions This Winter


The Washington State Department of Transportation is warning of decreased service and longer roadway closures this winter due to a staffing shortage.

The announcement was made Friday, ahead of the first significant snow of the season on Snoqualmie Pass, Mount Baker and other places in Washington with high elevation. Over the weekend, Stevens Pass received 11 inches and Snoqualmie Pass saw five inches.

WSDOT attributed the labor shortage to a mix of an aging staff, pandemic-related hiring freezes and furloughs, a national shortage of diesel mechanics and people with commercial driver's licenses, as well as unfilled positions from internal promotions and a recent 6% of staff leaving due to the state vaccine mandate.

The possible impacts include:

* Slower response times to crashes and other emergencies.

* Certain roads and passes closed longer than normal after storms.

* Some roads plowed minimally and not staffed 24 hours a day.

* Some freeways with only one or two lanes open and fully cleared of snow and ice.

* Lower speed limits in areas with variable speed limits.

According to WSDOT, the agency has around 1,500 jobs directly tied to winter operations and had an estimated 1,200 filled as of Oct. 19.

WSDOT said crews will focus on critical or high-volume roads in order of preexisting plowing-priority maps.

"We know it's tough for them to not be able to provide the same level of service this year. But we simply can't ask these hard-working colleagues to do more with less. Safety is key here," WSDOT said in a blog post.

This winter, WSDOT recommends travelers:

* Check real-time weather reports and driving conditions before traveling through mountain passes.

* Drive slower with extra room between vehicles and without cruise control.

* Checking cars for traction tires or chains.

* Driving cautiously near intersections, offramps, bridges or chain-up and removal areas.

* Preparing an emergency car kit with jumper cables, snacks, blankets, gloves and other supplies.