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Maintenance worker shortages to lead to snow plowing delays on Washington roads

Drivers in Eastern Washington are likely to see plowing delays during snow events this winter due to staff shortages at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The delays will likely be concentrated on more rural roads, but the entire region may experience delays during heavy snow events, said Washington State Department of Transportation’s Eastern Region Administrator Michael Gribner.

He said about 40% of the region’s mechanic positions are staffed, and the agency is in need of drivers. The shortage is caused in part by the state implementing a hiring freeze in 2020 when there was concern the car tabs initiative I-976 could gut the state’s transportation budget, and again when the vaccine mandate went into effect last month.

Gribner said the length of delay likely depends on the magnitude and length of a snow event.

“The bigger the event and the longer it takes, the more pressure it'll put on our staffing,” he said. “Again, the lack of staffing doesn't mean we're not going to get to those roads, it means we're going to get to them quite a bit slower."

He said the agency is trying to recruit more drivers and mechanics with events across the state and is encouraging people to apply.

The public should be prepared for hazardous driving conditions, and avoid interfering with snow plows on the road.

“I’m asking folks to give our plow operators some grace,” he said. “Don’t crowd them, don’t pass them. Things like that interrupt our ability to provide services, and it makes the situation unsafe.”

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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