Road departments, Metro use lessons learned from 2008

Nov 22, 2010

Nearly two years ago, heavy snow and ice from an unusual mid-December storm and cold snap left roads and sidewalks treacherous for a week or more. Road and transit agencies in Seattle say the hard lessons they learned during the big snowstorm of 2008 are showing up in their response to this snowfall.

Since the fiasco in 2008, Seattle’s road department and King County Metro Transit have put a lot of energy into making sure that doesn’t happen again.

One big difference is that city road crews are now using salt as a de-icer. Salt wasn’t used in 2008 because of environmental concerns. But road department official Steve Pratt says a study by Seattle Public Utilities suggests that fear was overblown.

“The amount of salt we put down in relation to the volume of salt water that’s out here in front of us is really negligible,” he says.

The department is now also prioritizing high-volume arterial routes and bus corridors to keep people moving as best as possible.

Metro is running buses on snow routes that are revised and simplified since 2008. Metro general manager Kevin Desmond says there’s now better coordination between Metro and area road departments.

“We’re only as good as the streets we operate on,” he says. “If the streets we operate on become impassible, icy, our busses just don’t do very well.”

Desmond says communication with riders has also been boosted, through online notices, e-mail alerts and outreach to the media.