Friday, November 5, 2021

Our second pandemic winter will look a little different – what you should expect

By Barbara LaBoe

These aren't ordinary times, and this won't be an ordinary winter on our roads.

Washington state is almost two years into a public health emergency of global proportions. Like many others in our state, this has affected our agency in a number of ways – including winter operations.

Our staff began winter prep work months ago, but we also want the public to know that things will look different this winter. And that's why it's more important than ever to plan ahead, be prepared and stay informed.

What to expect this winter

So, what will the public see this winter?

Safety is always our top priority – for those of you traveling and our employees. Our dedicated crews will absolutely still be out on the roadways, plowing during and after storms as well as preparing and, in some cases, pre-treating roadways before storms.

Drivers should be prepared for possible delays or closures during the winter while crews work to clear highways.

But we have fewer staff this winter for several reasons, which means roadways will look different during storms. Our work, as always, will be prioritized based on safety, resources and our pre-existing plowing priority maps based on volume and/or critical roads.

What to expect:

  • Some roads and passes will be closed longer than normal 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 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.

Pandemic staffing issues

In a typical, pre-pandemic winter we have about 1,500 people in the jobs tied most directly to winter operations. (Many other staff throughout our agency also provide valuable support, of course).

Staffing has been a challenge for all kinds of businesses and agencies throughout the pandemic – and we're not immune:

  • An aging, close-to-retirement staff and pandemic-related hiring freezes, reduced revenue, furloughs, etc. left us understaffed going into last winter. Some of the positions we were able to fill were temporary and not permanent.
  • This past year, we've seen a global worker shortage as well as very high demand for some of our key winter jobs, such as diesel mechanics and people with Commercial Drivers Licenses. It's not just in Washington, our fellow state DOTs are seeing the same challenges.
  • Some of our open positions – especially mechanics – are a force multiplier because if we can't keep trucks running, that affects each employee who uses that particular plow throughout the day.
  • Some of our internal promotions also create a secondary vacancy we then must fill.
  • In October, we had some staff leave the agency due to the state vaccine mandate – 5.9 percent agency-wide – which affected the already-low winter operations numbers.

We are actively and creatively recruiting to fill winter operations positions: please check our online site or @WSDOTjobs on Twitter for open positions and read about typical winter work on our 2020 blog.

Crews will be working hard to maintain highways this winter though some roads may not see
the same level of service they’ve seen in the past.

We're also prioritizing work and planning on shifting staff as needed to respond to storms in particular areas. But as of Oct. 19, 2021, of our typical 1,500 winter staffing positions, we were down almost 300 to 1,200 today. And even as positions are filled, training time means there's still a lag before we see increased crews on the road.

Our workers are incredibly dedicated and take the service they provide their communities personally. We know it's tough for them to not be able to provide the same level of service this year. But we simply can't ask these hard-working colleagues to do more with less. Safety is key here – we can't risk staff being injured or equipment being damaged by working crews beyond reasonable limits. It's not safe for anyone.

What you can do

As we do every year, we're asking that the public be prepared for winter conditions, including ensuring their vehicles are ready, packing winter supplies and staying informed about conditions both before and during travel. This year that will be even more important.

One person driving too fast or not having the proper equipment can close a pass down for everyone. In fact, on Snoqualmie Pass most closures are due to crashes and spin outs, not avalanche control work to remove higher mountain snow. So please, be prepared for winter conditions to help keep everyone moving.

We have several options to help you track conditions, including online tools, travel alerts and pass conditions webpages and our 511 telephone travel information line. Please also pack some extra winter supplies (PDF 1.5MB) and be prepared for delays when heading into storms. Keeping the gas tank filled, your mobile device charged and some extra snacks on hand is always a good idea. And remember, if you're unsure about your driving skills or your vehicle during a storm, there's no shame in delaying or canceling plans.

We know road and pass closures are frustrating even during a normal winter. And seeing more snow and ice on roads this winter won't be welcome news. Our crews will be out there, clearing and reopening roads as soon as it's safe to do so, but we also thank you for your patience as they do this work during these unusual times.

31 comments:

Meg O'Fiachra said...

And all in the name of “safety.” “Safety” at what cost? WA state suddenly isn’t looking so safe, is it? Policies matter. Who you vote for matters. The responsibility for these unsafe roads lays at the feet of Inslee, as well as those who would not speak up, push back against his unconstitutional orders.

Unknown said...

There never should have been a vaccine mandate put in place to begin with.

Unknown said...

I for one very much appreciate WSDOT's efforts to keep us all safe on the roads. These are very frustrating times! Please everyone, do your level best to help increase road safety no matter what season we're in. STOP driving impaired; STOP driving distracted by your phone. REPORT people who are driving erratically - you may be able to save lives! And give our road workers a BRAKE so they can go home in one piece to their families too!

Roque Scholar said...

Get off of the mandates! That week end the employee shortage.

Roque Scholar said...

Absolutely!

Roque Scholar said...

Get off of the mandates!!

Unknown said...

The vaccine mandate is necessary for everyone's safety. Those not wishing to get vaccinated could very well end up in the ICU or worse. That would certainly cause a staffing shortage not to mention all of the people they infect who also could end up in the ICU or worse.

Meg O'Fiachra said...

So many by now have natural immunity or have willingly gotten the shot. With so many breakthrough cases , including serious ones that end up in ICU, it’s obvious that the vax doesn’t give the protection as advertised. This myopic focus on the vaccine, to the point that the safety of state roads is in jeopardy, is foolish. And we haven’t even spoken about first responders, nurses, corrections…

Unknown said...

Well said!
The vaccine was not the cause of them leaving, they just don't give a $hit about the public they work for. No worries, they will be replaced.

Rivitman said...

There is no "public health emergency". Only abuse of power by a tyrant governor.

Understaffed? Maybe you shouldn't fire employees over personal medical decisions which you have no moral, legal, or constitutional right to do.

Vaccine mandates in this case are not based on any sort of science. You can contract, carry and spread this virus, even more effectively, after you are vaccinated. And you ignore natural immunity, multiple times more effective than vaccines. While I am happy to see this political power grab bite WA DOT in the rear end, nobody should blame anyone for your reduced effectiveness and potential mayhem on the highways except DOT, it's leadership, and out power mad Governor.

Underfunded? We have massive tax collections in this state, the State is NOT insolvent, so perhaps you have your spending priorities are out of alignment.

Renee said...

Exactly!

Unknown said...

Not the place. Hope you're more considerate on the road.

jordanlongacre said...

Maybe WSDOT shouldn’t have fired so many of us, you reap what you sow. Good luck WA drivers, the state clearly doesn’t care about your safety as much as they do about upholding illegal mandates in the name of “the greater good” what a joke.

Concrete said...

There is only one person in a snowplow truck. Not going to infect anyone. And if they get sick and don't show up, didn't the article say there weren't enough personnel already. So it isn't like they are holding up a spot for a person that is vaccinated. Use some logic when trying to defend your King Inslee. Some of those positions have people willing to fill them. I'm not an antivaccination preacher. But get real with your logic. Is shutting our vital infrastructure down safer than letting an unvaccinated person drive a snowplow? NO IT ABSOLUTELY ISN'T. I really get tired of being fed a bunch of crap like I'm some idiot. It's on you.

Joe Miller said...

Doggone it, can we give these folks a break? They are trying to explain how we can make life easier for ourselves as we navigate the winter. Nobody at WSDOT is calling the shots on COVID mandates, they are adapting like the rest of us. I appreciate their efforts to keep us all safe. This is not a political issue and attacking these people just reduces their capacity to keep us moving.

eagle14410 said...

Thank you WSDOT for standing up for society and making things safe all around for everyone, even in the face of the pressure to not do so by people that are ignorant. Our family may have to miss a trip or two this winter due to storms or closed roads, but it will be worth it in the long run. Thanks for all that you do and thank you for keeping our family safe in more ways than one.

eagle14410 said...

You are 100% correct, but don’t waste your breath, “they” aren’t and won’t listen.

eagle14410 said...

Nope we won’t.

eagle14410 said...

That’s like your opinion man.

eagle14410 said...

Absolutely not!

eagle14410 said...

Well said!

Meagan said...

Did you read the article? 5% of staffing loss was from people who quit because they didn't want to get vaccinated. (Remember a year ago, when Trump announced we would start Operation Warp Speed, and how excited people were about getting a vaccine? But now it's here and too politicized so no one wants it anymore. So strange.)

They're down over 300 people. Only 5% of staff loss was due to covid mandates. They normally have 1,500 employees, so 5% of that is about 75 people. That's how many are due to the mandates.

The other issues are much bigger factors. But you ignore them and jump right to the political fight. Sigh.

Unknown said...

While I agree with most of your comment, the difference between vaccinated vs unvaccinated tends to be severity of symptoms and survival rate. Those statistics are extreme,however, the differences regarding how many people they pass the virus on to appears to have more to do with behavior rather than whether or not they have been vaccinated.

Unknown said...

Quit whining about mandates and get the vaccine like an educated person who believes in science not some fictional tale. The state should be openly recruiting for drivers who have the brains to get the Covid vaccine so my daughter doesn't have to put another anti vaxxer in a body bag. I am sure there are a lot of people looking for work with the state.

Dale Dallas said...

Why did you change the pass cameras and report page??? It's hard to use. As a truckers I need a one click page to see what's going on with the passes. 1. The new page is very hard to use. Not to mention multiple clicks. The previous was much better.

markharf said...

I have to agree with Dale Dallas: the new reports and cameras are more complex and less user-friendly without any added functions. It also loads more slowly.

Francisco said...

Horrible timing on new pass reports. Unable to open pass report on one phone although could on another. Bad timing to drop this the same day as first major snowstorm!

Unknown said...

The vaccine mandate is ridiculous on so many levels!

Unknown said...

Let's go Brandon and Inslee

Unknown said...

The old site was so much easier and informative

Unknown said...

Article on winter traffic safety triggers MAGA Cult.

This opportunistic manufactured outrage has become sooooo boring...

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