WSDOT warns of reduced winter road service due to staff shortage

As snow is forecast to fall at Snoqualmie Pass this weekend, the Washington State Department of Transportation is warning that road service will be reduced this winter due to a staffing shortage.

WSDOT officials said winter preparation work started months ago and crews will still be out plowing roads during and after storms, but roads will look different this winter.

As a result, WSDOT is letting the public know they should plan ahead and stay informed when winter storms are in the forecast.

Here’s what WSDOT said the public can expect:

  • Some roads and passes will be closed longer than usual during and after significant storms.
  • Some roads will not get the same level or service, may be only plowed minimally or will have snow and ice on them longer. Some areas may not be staffed around the clock.
  • Especially during storms that are large or long-lasting, there won’t be enough staff to respond 24 hours a day for several days throughout the storm.
  • Some freeway lanes may have snow and ice on them while crews focus on keeping just one or two lanes open.
  • There may be lower speed limits in areas with variable speed limits.
  • Crews may be slower to respond to crashes and other emergencies, and it may take longer to clear major crashes or snow slides.
  • Secondary routes and recreation areas will get less attention as crews focus on higher priority roads.

WSDOT officials said that as usual, the agency’s work will be prioritized based on safety, resources and its plowing priority maps.

Like other businesses, the pandemic has affected WSDOT’s staffing levels.

Employees who were close to retirement, pandemic-related hiring freezes, reduced revenue and other issues left the agency understaffed going into last winter. Some of the positions that were filled were temporary, according to the WSDOT blog.

The problems continued this year, with high demand for key winter jobs such as diesel mechanics and people with commercial driver’s licenses. Without enough mechanics and drivers, it’s difficult to keep essential equipment such as snowplows running.

In addition, WSDOT said 5.9% of its staff agency-wide left in October due to the state vaccine mandate.

WSDOT is recruiting to fill winter operations positions. Those who are interested can find available positions at this link or follow @WSDOTjobs on Twitter. Job seekers can read about typical winter work on WDOT’s 2020 blog.