The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is warning drivers that their response to winter storms will “will look a little different” this year as lingering pandemic issues have resulted in staffing problems for the agency.

In a November 5 statement, WSDOT said that the staffing level for this winter will be 1200 workers, down from the usual 1500 as the agency goes into the second winter of the pandemic.

WSDOT says that safety will remain a priority, but they won’t be able to offer the same level of service that they have in years past when they were fully staffed.

Here are a few changes that WSDOT says drivers need to prepare for:

  • Some roads and passes will be closed longer than normal during and after significant storms.
  • Some roads will not get the same level or service, may be only plowed minimally or will have snow and ice on the roadway for longer periods of time. Some areas may not be staffed 24/7.
  • Especially during large storms or long-lasting ones, we won’t have a deep enough “bench” of staff to respond 24/7 for several days throughout the storm.
  • Some lanes of the freeway system may have snow and ice while crews focus on keeping just one or two lanes open.
  • Lower speed limits in areas with variable speed limits.
  • There may be slower responses to crashes and other emergencies, and it may take longer to clear major crashes or slide-offs.
  • Less attention to secondary routes and recreation areas as crews focus on higher priority roadways.

WSDOT points to several factors that are hampering their ability to hire workers this winter. These include a statewide vaccine mandate that caused 5.9% of workers to leave their positions, an “aging, close-to-retirement staff and pandemic-related hiring freezes,” and a lack of available CDL drivers and diesel mechanics.

“Some of our open positions – especially mechanics – are a force multiplier because if we can’t keep trucks running, that affects each employee who uses that particular plow throughout the day,” WSDOT noted.

WSDOT recommends that drivers take extra precautions before traveling this winter.

“As we do every year, we’re asking that the public be prepared for winter conditions, including ensuring their vehicles are ready, packing winter supplies and staying informed about conditions both before and during travel. This year that will be even more important,” the agency said. “One person driving too fast or not having the proper equipment can close a pass down for everyone. In fact, on Snoqualmie Pass most closures are due to crashes and spin outs, not avalanche control work to remove higher mountain snow. So please, be prepared for winter conditions to help keep everyone moving.”

“We have several options to help you track conditions, including online toolstravel alerts and pass conditions webpages and our 511 telephone travel information line. Please also pack some extra winter supplies (PDF 1.5MB) and be prepared for delays when heading into storms. Keeping the gas tank filled, your mobile device charged and some extra snacks on hand is always a good idea. And remember, if you’re unsure about your driving skills or your vehicle during a storm, there’s no shame in delaying or canceling plans,” WSDOT said.

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