Friday, February 16, 2018

Pass closures – be prepared this weekend and every winter weekend

By Barbara LaBoe

We get it. Nobody likes a pass closure. You’re headed to see family, or taking kids to a sporting event or just trying to hit the slopes -- and a delay is the last thing you need. But, winter weather can be unpredictable, so it’s always better to be prepared before you head out.

So, why do passes close? The short answer is because we want to keep everyone – travelers, our crews and law enforcement – safe. It’s our top priority and at times, that means delays or closures.

The slightly longer answer is there are three main reasons for pass closures:
  • Vehicle collisions/spin outs – Many pass closures are caused by vehicles that spin out, crash or slide off the roadway – often because the vehicle wasn’t properly equipped or the driver was going too fast for conditions. Slow down, stay alert and leave extra space between vehicles during winter conditions.
  • Avalanche control - We monitor avalanche risk throughout the winter and at times shut down roadways to force an avalanche rather than risk unstable slopes giving way while drivers are on the roadway. We try to schedule these during non-peak hours, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.
  • Road conditions/clearing – During heavy storms or extreme conditions, it may not be safe for our crews to be out clearing the roadway.
Chain up! It’s the law
Don’t be the person who shuts down the pass for everyone. Our crews work hard to pre-treat and clear roadways, but we need your help too.

Roughly half the Snoqualmie Pass closures are due to spin outs or crashes, when we must close the road to bring tow trucks and other response vehicles to get someone out of a ditch – holding up everyone else traveling. Often these vehicles don’t have proper equipment or drivers were going too fast for conditions.

To help ensure everyone is following the roadway safety restrictions this winter, we’ve partnered with the Washington State Patrol on chain emphasis patrols during storms. Troopers are out checking to ensure drivers have proper traction equipment when it’s required, including issuing tickets at times. Failing to chain up when required can lead to a $500 ticket, so in addition to safety, it makes good financial sense to obey road restrictions as well. (A reminder – studded tires do NOT satisfy chain requirements.)

Practice installing your chains at home, before you head out. This helps you be quicker and more prepared if you do need to install them on the side of a roadway. Don’t know how to install chains? Check out our online video.

If you don’t have the proper equipment to travel during pass restrictions, then delay your trip or find alternate transportation. We want everyone to get where they’re going safely – and no trip is worth risking your safety as well as others on the road.

Be Prepared
You need more than just traction tires and chains during winter weather.

While our crews work hard to keep roadways open, you need to be prepared for unexpected stops if roads need to be closed for clearing, avalanche work or unsafe conditions.

Please be sure you pack your winter vehicle kit (pdf) to ensure you have enough food, water, warm clothes and other supplies if you’re delayed or need to stop unexpectedly.

Stay Informed
We have a variety of tools to keep you informed both before and during your travels. Use them early and often to stay up-to-date on conditions and any closures or delays.
  • Check out online tools, including mobile apps, traffic cameras and email alerts*.
  • Visit our online traveler information about traffic, weather and ferry schedules. 
  • Follow WSDOT’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
  • Check current chain and traction requirements on the WSDOT passes website or by calling 5-1-1, and watch for highway advisory signs.
*Never use your phone or mobile device while driving – it’s dangerous and against the law. Have a passenger check road updates or pull over into a safe area, like a rest area, before checking on your own.

Again, we work hard to keep closures and delays to a minimum, but we still need travelers to be prepared and follow road restrictions when they’re posted. These two steps can help make everyone’s trips a little easier.

Crews work around the clock to clear snow and ice – and bring on extra staff during large storms. Please help us keep the passes open by driving for conditions and following traction restrictions.
Traction restrictions are put in place due to hazardous conditions – please obey all restrictions and drive prepared.
Slide offs and crashes are a regular cause of pass closures, as tow trucks need room to respond.