Last month, the King County Council approved a new plan to remove snow and ice from more roads this winter.
The new response plan will allow the county Road Services Division to add 70 additional miles to the existing 583 miles of designated snow routes across rural and urban unincorporated areas during severe winter storms and keep them clear.
While the plan will focus greater attention to areas that are more than 500 feet above sea level, Jeremy Ferguson, King County Road Services Maintenance Manager, said that islanders will hopefully see some improvements to the county’s road response this year, as well.
“Last year, we were more concerned about removing snow from roadways more than anything because we practically had the snowstorm of the century,” he said, referring to the band of blizzards in February that covered the region, knocking out power and stranding residents in their homes. “This plan gave us an opportunity to review all snow routes to make sure we had a solid strategy more than anything.”
As in other unincorporated areas in the county, several roadways on Vashon are considered the highest priority for crews to plow. Vashon Highway, Dockton Road and the Westside Highway rank highest on the priority list because they facilitate travel north and south and connect most of the island to town and the ferry docks.
Ferguson said two trucks with plows and a road grader are equipped and ready to face harsh winter weather on Vashon, putting down sand and salt and digging the roads out.
Road crews, he added, have also completed additional training to help them use best practices and better maintain and calibrate equipment as needed. Meanwhile, the Road Services Division, part of the Department of Local Services, has deepened its partnerships with other county offices such as Natural Resources and Parks to deploy available truck drivers and equipment operators.
Should they exhaust county resources, said Ferguson, Local Services has agreements to approach unions for more help — Teamsters Local 174 and the International Union of Operating Engineers — whose members can operate more loaders, graders and backhoes.
The county council’s plan includes providing even more personnel than that, activating on-call private contractors to supplement snow-removal crews and plows, though Ferguson noted a contractor has not yet been secured.
“As the proposals come in, we’ll be reviewing those to see how we might be able to utilize privately contracted equipment,” said Ferguson.
The plan will be funded through the existing Road Services Budget.
During February’s storms, some islanders discovered after several days that no one was coming to dig them out of their neighborhood. For many, the most significant help they received came from other islanders.
Jason Acosta, Maintenance Director of the Vashon Park District, noted that his staff does not provide snow removal services beyond clearing sidewalks outside of Ober Park and shutting down the district’s properties before a weather event so people know they will be closed.
Ferguson, for his part, said that the county’s mapped snow routes for 2019-2020 do not show every contingency route they may have the resources to clear, depending on how stretched crews are.
“That allows us to be flexible and respond where people need help the most during an event,” he said.
For those who need assistance or information, operators standing by at the 24/7 Road Hotline — 206-477-8100 — may be able to help. Data collected from calls last year has been used to map where the least serviced roads in unincorporated areas are during winter weather events. Moreover, Ferguson emphasized that Local Services coordinates with the county’s Office of Emergency Management to connect people with emergency services as soon as possible.
“When there is an emergency situation — say someone needs to get to critical dialysis or someone calls 911 and is having an emergency — we have the ability … to shift resources and help people who are in the most need,” said Ferguson.