WSDOT staff shortage could mean longer shutdowns, less plowing on Washington roads this winter


Persistent staff shortages could make winter travel more difficult for Washington drivers this year.

Citing a shortage of workers, the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has warned drivers of reduced service on the roads this coming winter, including longer closures, lower speed limits and less routine snow removal.

Prior to the pandemic, the WSDOT said it was filling 1,500 positions directly related to winter operations. This year, that number has fallen to 1,200. The agency also reported the loss of 5.9% of its staff after the state’s vaccination mandate took effect last month.

“We cannot risk personnel being injured or equipment damaged by work crews beyond reasonable limits,” WSDOT wrote in a blog post on Friday. “We just can’t ask these hard-working colleagues to do more with less. “

Here’s what WSDOT said drivers should expect this winter:

  • Some roads and passes will be closed longer than usual during and after severe storms.
  • Some roads will not have the same level or service, may be lightly cleared, or have snow and ice on the roadway for longer periods of time. Some areas may not be staffed 24/7.
  • Especially in large-scale or long-lasting storms, we will not have a deep enough “bank” of staff to respond 24/7 for several days throughout the storm.
  • Some lanes of the freeway network can be snowy and icy, while crews focus on keeping one or two lanes open.
  • Lower speed limits in areas with variable speed limits.
  • There may be slower responses to accidents and other emergencies, and it may take longer to clear major accidents or skids.
  • Less attention to secondary roads and recreation areas as teams focus on higher priority roads.

The ministry said it would prioritize work on pre-existing tillage priority cards volume-based. But with less service expected, the agency is asking drivers to monitor crossing conditions and prepare with the right emergency supplies like tire chains and jumper cables before setting off.

“A person driving too fast or not having the proper equipment can close a pass for everyone,” WSDOT wrote. “In fact, on the Snoqualmie Pass, most of the closures are due to accidents and skids, not avalanche control work to remove snow from the high mountains.”

Other state transit services are also struggling to maintain consistent levels of service amid continued staff shortages. Washington State Ferries (WSF) has been forced to cut service on several major routes due to a lack of trained crew members. The cuts are expected to be temporary as the agency is actively recruiting new staff, but no date for resuming normal service has been given.

With winter approaching, major roads are bracing for seasonal closures due to avalanche hazards. Washington State’s Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is scheduled to close for the season on November 15. The seasonal closure extends from mile post 134 / Ross Dam Trailhead on the west side and mile post 171 / Silver Star Gate on the east.


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