Why more snow plows are being hit in eastern Washington
Why more snow plows are being hit in eastern Washington

Source: Google News

15 snowplows have been hit in the past three years and WSDOT said the numbers continue to rise.

SPOKANE, Wash. — When Greg Wilke, a WSDOT maintenance worker gets ready to start up his snowplow, it takes him 15 minutes to make sure it’s safe to go treat the roads. He does what he can to ensure he can do his job, but it’s what other drivers are doing that prevents him from clearing the roads.

In the last two weeks, at least three Washington State Department of Transportation plow maintenance trucks have been hit by drivers going too fast and too close to plows.

Wilke has worked for WSDOT for about five years, he’s never seen so many crashes in such a short period of time, but he has had several close calls.

“They started swerving in almost hit the truck and just barely gotten back in before another vehicle came from the opposite direction,” Wilke recalled.

This time of year, plow drivers like Wilke are on standby to treat the roads before, during, and after snowy weather.

“It’s great to see the snow cover on the roads and then scraping it away, plowing it off, and seeing those bear roads that the public can travel safely,” Wilke explained.

While he enjoys this aspect of his job, there are two things that make his job challenging, the changing weather and other drivers on the roads.

“The traveling public that’s either passing us or that we’re meeting head-on, like in a two-lane road,” he said.

These tweets from WSDOT and the Washington State Patrol show recent crashes involving plow trucks. 

In 2022, four WSDOT plows have been hit in the eastern region. The most recent incidents include a head-on collision, a rear-end crash, and one involving a DUI.

In the eastern region, damaged vehicles go to the ‘Transportation Equipment Fund’ or TEF at WSDOT in Spokane. The workers at TEF are the ones who repair damaged plows and other equipment. Having an in-house maintenance crew saves the agency money when vehicles are damaged.

Since 2020, there have been 15 reported plow strikes that caused damage in the eastern region alone.

“It’s very concerning. The number has continued to rise. And we average probably five to eight plow strikes a year from people driving too fast for conditions not paying attention, losing control, trying to pass our vehicles on the right,” Ryan Overton, WSDOT Eastern Region Communications Manager said.

Overton also said the three plows most recently involved in crashes were out of commission for more than a week. This means fewer resources to make your commute safer.

“With trucks out of service being hit by third parties, it just means a slower response time and takes us longer to do our jobs,” Overton said.

Not to mention, it’s expensive. WSDOT’s eastern region has spent about $56,000 in repairs in the last three years.

“Oftentimes, the damage is located to a specific area, a lot of it’s made of steel. So, it takes the impact very differently than vehicles do,” Overton said.

So what’s changed and why are so many plows being hit? Overton said the pandemic changed habits, with fewer people on the roads, and driving faster.

“During the pandemic, people were going at significantly higher speeds because there were less people on the roads, those trends have continued with the higher speeds,” Overton said.

This behavior is making road conditions dangerous, which is the opposite of what plow drivers are trying to accomplish.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping other people out, in this way I can help a lot of people out,” Wilke said.

KREM 2 also checked in with the City of Spokane and Spokane County maintenance crews, both agencies said none of their plows have been hit in the last three years. However, they want to remind people to give plows room and not pass them while they are clearing the streets.