SEATTLE — Staffing shortages at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) could mean extended road closures, lack of plows, slower response time to crashes and lower speed limits this winter.
WSDOT warned drivers in a Friday release, saying, “These aren’t ordinary times, and this won’t be an ordinary winter on our roads.”
With what’s likely the first of many storms bringing snow to the passes this weekend, drivers should be prepared for the staffing shortages and the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WSDOT said that staff started preparing for the wintery conditions months ago.
However, the agency said drivers should still expect quite a few inconveniences through the winter months, including:
- Certain roads and passes will be closed longer than normal during and after significant storms.
- Some roadways may only be plowed minimally compared to regularly, and others will have snow and ice for longer periods of time.
- Due to a lack of 24/7 staff in certain areas and throughout large or long-lasting storms, response times to crashes and other emergencies may be slower.
- Speed limits may be lowered in certain areas.
WSDOT also says that crews will pay less attention to secondary routes in order to commit more resources to higher priority roadways.
The WSDOT staffing issues, which have persisted across virtually every industry throughout 2021, have been caused by various things like retirements, pandemic-related hiring freezes and the statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which cut the agency’s workforce by about 6%.
Pre-pandemic, WSDOT would have roughly 1,500 people working jobs related to winter operations along with other support staff. As of Oct. 19, WSDOT is down 300 winter operations workers to roughly 1,200.
WSDOT is asking drivers in the meantime to be prepared by ensuring vehicles are ready, packing winter supplies and keeping informed about road conditions before taking off on their travels.
“One person driving too fast or not having the proper equipment can close a pass down for everyone,” WSDOT wrote.
Some supplies WSDOT suggests bringing for wintertime trips are a flashlight, ice scraper, snow brush, flares, jumper cables, tire chains, water and food and a first aid kit.
Drivers should also prepare by having a full tank of gas and a fully charged cellphone whenever traveling over the passes.