Fallout from Washington’s vaccine mandate could affect winter driving

SPOKANE, Wash.– It’s almost time for winter driving across the Inland Northwest.

Drivers in Washington should be prepared to see some changes to the way roads are taken care of because of a staff shortage at the Washington Department of Transportation.

The department said there were fewer people working there this year which means winter driving across the state will look different. Don’t worry, WSDOT said safety is still its top priority and its crews will still be on the out on the roadways. Crews will be plowing during and after storms as well as pre-treating some roads ahead of winter weather.

However, since the department is down about 300 employees, there could be delays on how quickly roads are getting plowed– especially mountain passes and interstates.

Here’s what WSDOT said drivers can expect:

  • Some roads and passes will be closed longer than normal during and after significant storms.
  • Some roads will not get the same level of 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.

PREVIOUS: WSDOT: Staffing problems could mean changes on the roads this winter

There will also be some more local impacts. Division Street and Trent Avenue in Spokane are plowed by the DOT. That’s why communications manager Kristin Davis said they’ll be staying in touch with WSDOT this winter.

“Routes to hospitals, and school zones, and school routes and things like that, there’s a priority list there — that’s pretty standard best practice, so if that becomes an issue, we have a very good relationship with WSDOT, and I can’t imagine we wouldn’t figure out a way to make it happen,” Davis said.

City leaders said they have any staffing issues that would affect snow plowing this year. The major thing changing for Spokane is that its resources will be more spread out. That way it will be more efficient for trucks that need to fill up with de-icer.

Spokane Valley is looking for on-call snow plowers, a position the city puts up every year. Otherwise, city leaders said they’re okay staffing-wise this season.

In October, WSDOT reported 5.9 percent of its workers across the state left because of Washington’s vaccine mandate. However, that wasn’t the only factor in play when it comes to employees leaving. WSDOT said it lost a lot of people last year because of the ongoing pandemic.

Anyone looking for a job with WSDOT can find listings here.

WSDOT is already warning travelers to prepare for worse road conditions ahead of time.  Know the forecast and road conditions before you leave home. Here are road reports for Idaho and Washington.

You’ll still want to be extra prepared when you hit the roads this winter. Another  La Niña has developed in the East Pacific Ocean. That means there’s a higher chance the Inland Northwest could have a colder and snowier winter.

RELATED: How to check road conditions across the Inland Northwest

RELATED: November is Snow-vember in Spokane: Here’s how to be ready on the road