CHOKEPOINTS

WSDOT claims it’s ready for mountain snow

Nov 9, 2023, 5:05 AM | Updated: 9:11 am

wsdot mountain snow...

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Forecasters expect a warmer El Niño winter season over the mountain passes, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get a ton of snow.

Is the state prepared to clear the roads?

It’s been dicey over the passes the last couple of years. We had record early snowfall and a bunch of pass closures for major accidents over the last few years, and the Washington Department of Transportation didn’t have enough people to handle it.

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After the Governor’s vaccine mandate cut 175 people from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) maintenance staff, the winter ops division went into the winter of 2021 down more than 200 people. Last year, WSDOT was down more than 120 people.

WSDOT’s Tina Werner said this year the agency is only down 25 positions.

“We have largely returned to a normal or pre-pandemic point of staffing for our winter maintenance roles that are most directly involved in snow and ice,” she said. “We have right around 1,550 winter maintenance folks that are on board, roughly 81 more that are working this year compared to last winter.”

So the winter ops team is in good shape heading into the season, but it still needs mechanics and people with an up-to-date commercial driver’s license. There is a nationwide shortage of people in those jobs.

“We’re going to continue to aggressively recruit for those positions, but overall we’re looking pretty good going into this winter season,” Werner said.

WSDOT still offers CDL training for new and existing hires to help fill those jobs.

“We put about 100 folks every winter through that in-house CDL training program,” Werner said. “It’s something that we look to develop within our existing workforce and give folks more of an opportunity to see what it’s like to be able to operate a snowplow and other really critical winter snow and ice equipment on our roadways.”

But WSDOT can only do so much to keep the roads open.

Drivers play a huge role in this. They need to be prepared for winter driving, and they need to follow the chain requirements and other restrictions.

“Many of the mountain pass closures that we see, generally speaking, are due to poor driver behavior and the State Patrol has confirmed this,” Werner said. “It’s often folks driving too fast for conditions.  They’re going way too fast on snow and ice.”

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There is also distraction and impairment, which do not mix with snow and ice. Over-confidence in four-wheel or all-wheel is also an issue.

Werner said it really doesn’t take much to close a mountain pass. “It really only takes one person that can close down a path for all of us so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be prepared,” she said.

We’ve seen it before. A car without chains starts to spin out and stop. A truck that’s barely making up with chains then loses momentum. Someone going a little fast can’t stop in time. That’s all it takes. WSDOT said it’s ready. Let’s make sure we are too.

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WSDOT claims it’s ready for mountain snow