WSDOT Warns of Longer Traffic Delays, More Road Closures Due to ‘Pandemic Staffing Issues’
Olympia, WA – Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials are warning truckers and motorists roadways in the state “will look different” this winter, and are casting the blame on “pandemic staffing issues.”
According to Barbara LaBoe, communications at WSDOT, the Department employs approximately 1,500 people in positions “tied most directly to winter operations.”
However, LaBoe stated staffing during the pandemic has been a “challenge,” as the Department is down to 1,200 employees currently.
“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 (CDLs),” LaBoe explained. “It’s not just in Washington, our fellow state DOTs are seeing the same challenges.”
In addition, LaBoe stated WSDOT lost 5.9 percent of its staff in October due to the state vaccine mandate.
Due to the decrease in staff, truckers and motorists traveling through Washington this winter can expect the following, LaBoe predicts:
• 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, [WSDOT] 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.
LaBoe reminded motorists WSDOT work will “be prioritized based on safety, resources and [WSDOT’s] pre-existing plowing priority maps based on volume and/or critical roads.”
WSDOT said this year, more than ever, it’s critical for motorists to stay informed on road conditions before traveling.