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Prepare for winter driving: WSDOT employee shortage could impact roads

Staffing shortages at WSDOT could mean longer road closures and more headaches for drivers in Eastern Washington this winter.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Are you ready for winter driving? If not, you should prepare yourself, as some Washington roads may not get plowed on time this winter due to an employee shortage within the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

According to the WSDOT website, services and operation for some state roads will be delayed for the 2021 winter season, while other roads are expected to be closed longer after snowstorms. 

This comes after 5.9% of WSDOT employees across Washington left their jobs in October after the vaccine mandate for state and health care workers took effect. WSDOT also lost many of its employees last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

WSDOT was down almost 300 of its typical 1,500 winter staffing positions as of Oct. 19. The agency says some of the open positions, especially mechanics, are a force multiplier. If the company can't keep trucks running, that affects each employee who uses that particular plow throughout the day.

Another La Niña winter is in the forecast for Spokane and surrounding areas, which could make for colder temperatures and more snow. 

WSDOT is asking drivers to be prepared for this winter season and plan before hitting the road during this winter.

Here is what people should expect on the roads during this winter season

  • Some roads and passes will be closed for longer than regular times during and after significant snowstorms.
  • The same level or plowing service will not be the same for all roads. Some roads will have snow and ice on roadways for more extended periods.
  • During large storms or long-lasting ones, WSDOT won't have a deep enough "bench" of staff to respond 24/7 for several days throughout the storm.
  • Freeway lines may have snow and ice while crews focus on keeping just one or two lanes open.
  • Lower speed limits are expected in areas with variable speed limits.
  • Drivers will expect slower responses to crashes and other emergencies.
  • It will take a longer time for WSDOT staff to clear major crashes or slide-offs.
  • Roadways priority with less attention to secondary routes and recreation areas.

Here is what you can do to be prepared for winter conditions:

  •  Ensure your vehicle has a full tank of gas and tire chains, and carry jumper cables before hitting the road.
  • Pack winter supplies such as a first aid kit, a cell phone charger, a flashlight, pack water and snacks, flares, ice scraper, or a snow brush.
  • Stay informed about conditions both before and during travel.

WSDOT tools available to use during the winter season:


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