WSDOT: Expect travel delays, fewer snow plows due to staffing shortage

The Washington State Department of Transportation is advising travelers to expect longer mountain pass closures and snow plowing delays this winter due to a significant staffing shortage.

“We’re two years into a public health emergency of global proportions and that’s impacted not only our budget, but also our staffing and operations,” said Meagan Lott, South Central Region Communications Manager for WSDOT.

Lott said they’ve been struggling with staffing for at least two years; as older staff members have retired from permanent positions, WSDOT has struggled to find replacements.

“We were having issues trying to recruit because there is a shortage of qualified people who have a commercial driver’s license to drive snowplows,” Lott said.

Additionally, the department lost hundreds of employees last month due to the state vaccine mandate — about 6% of its total staff. Lott said the staff shortage means travelers will likely see longer waits for snow plowing,  road closures.

“Some of those mountain pass closures may take a little bit longer just based on the fact that we don’t have the staffing that we’ve had in the past,” Lott said. “There will be some smaller routes that may not get plowed as frequently as maybe larger routes like I-82 or I-90.”

Lott said the agency is doing the best it can to prioritize public safety, but they need drivers to help them do it.

“Driver preparedness is probably more more critical now than what we’ve seen in any other winter,” Lott said.

Lott said drivers should check before they leave to make sure they have a full tank of gas, good windshield wipers, traction or snow tiers and fluid in the vehicle. She said people need to carry chains with them and make sure they know what to do with them.

“In the middle of a snowstorm is definitely not the time to learn how to put them on,” Lott said.

Drivers should carry an emergency kit with first aid supplies, medications, flares, jumper cables, food, water, blankets and anything else they might need if they got stranded. Lott said people should also dress for the cold.

“Many times ,we’ve seen drivers going up into the mountain passes where there’s a major storm and they’re getting out of their cars trying to put on chains in shorts and flip flops, which is definitely not the type of clothing you want to be wearing,” Lott said.

Travelers should check the WSDOT app before heading out to preview any road conditions or traffic alerts along the route to their destination. Lott said all of these things will help keep travelers safe this winter.

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