Blame the weather, not vaccine mandates, for the current pass closures

Jan 4, 2022, 5:40 AM
snow plow, pass closures...
US 2 Stevens Pass on Monday. (WSDOT Twitter)
(WSDOT Twitter)

It’s been almost impossible to cross the Cascades for the last few days as the mountain passes have been closed because of heavy snow and winds. Is this a byproduct of the staffing shortages at the Washington State Department of Transportation, created in part by the vaccine mandate that took effect in October?

Monitor school closures and delays
Check the traffic cams
Mountain pass webcams

That was the first reaction I heard from KIRO Radio listeners and on social media when pass closures started early last month.

“The closures are caused by the mandate,” some told me.

Others said, “Governor Inslee is closing the roads because of the mandate.”

The head of WSDOT’s maintenance department, James Morin, said that just isn’t what happened.

“Some of the closures last a little longer than we would like or maybe have historically happened, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve had closures that are a direct result [of the mandate],” he said Monday. “Meaning, ‘Hey, we don’t have anybody to run the plows so we’re going to close I-90.’ That has not happened.”

A lot of the early Snoqualmie Pass closures to end 2021 were caused by unprepared drivers — drivers who failed to follow the chain requirements and spun out. Morin and his team were able to shift people to those hot spots and had enough people to do the job.

The more recent, longer-term pass closures have had to do with heavy snow and heavy winds, creating near white-out conditions.

Morin does admit there there are times he doesn’t have enough people, even with the shifting around, to run at full operations.

“There’s no doubt that we have had situations where we have trucks with no drivers, and that bums you out when you can see a resource there that we would normally be using, and we can’t use it,” he said.

Morin’s maintenance department came into October 2021 down about 150 people due to a global shortage of drivers and mechanics. The vaccine mandate from the governor for state workers then cut his staff by more than 150. So the agency entered the snow season down close to 300 people.

WSDOT was doing fine until the cold snap after Christmas hit just about every region in the state.

“When everybody’s having the problem, we can’t shift resources around to the extent that we had been able to on some of the events that we had earlier in the season,” Morin said.

The long-term snow and cold temperatures came close to draining WSDOT’s supplies, too. Morin had to be very careful to prioritize where to deliver the salt and other supplies to sheds that were running out.

The maintenance department still needs about 140 people to get back to its traditional staffing levels, but Morin said those on the job are dedicated to opening the roads as soon as possible.

“We’ve had some folks that have worked enough consecutive days where we had to say, ‘I know you’re willing to come in, but you need to take a day off,'” Morin said. “That’s why we have been able to sort of make up for that deficit in staffing that we have.”

Many maintenance workers chose to work over Christmas and on New Year Day — some having worked 10 days straight without a break — to keep the roads open.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


electric vehicles...
Chris Sullivan

Market expert: Consumer confidence in electric vehicles is on the rise

Price, charging infrastructure, and range are the three improving indexes for gradual consumer confidence in electric vehicles.
3 days ago
flight, 5G...
Chris Sullivan

Major US airlines warn of flight disruptions Wednesday as new 5G service starts

Many airlines are warning of flight delays Wednesday as new 5G frequencies are fired up by cell phone companies that could interfere with landing.
5 days ago
reversible lane, 520...
Chris Sullivan

Reversible lane between SR 520 and I-5 under construction

The state Department of Transportation is ramping up work to add a reversible HOV lane between SR 520 and the I-5 express lanes in Seattle.
5 days ago
snow removal...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT accuses Kittitas County of ‘misinformation’ on snow removal dispute

The head of the Washington State Department of Transportation is basically saying Kittitas County is lying about its snow removal complaint.
9 days ago
Puget Sound commute...
Chris Sullivan

Uncertainty surrounding COVID, work schedules brings changes to Puget Sound commute

Commute times typically see a dip over the winter holidays, but it springs right back after the first of the year. That didn't happen this year.
10 days ago
pass closures...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT head tells legislature vaccine mandate had no impact on recent pass closures

The head of the Washington State Department of Transportation faced angry lawmakers Monday, asking if the vaccine mandate had an impact on pass closures.
12 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
Blame the weather, not vaccine mandates, for the current pass closures