More roads in unincorporated King County could be plowed during winter weather following last February, when multiple snow storms swept through the region and ground much of it to a halt.
The county’s Road Services Division maintains about 1,500 miles of roads, and during winter weather, plows 583 miles. These stretches of road are usually able to be cleared within five days. However, during severe back-to-back storms like last winter, the county’s resources are stretched thin.
During February’s storms, cities including Snoqualmie and North Bend had to call in additional help from regional agencies, including King County. States of emergency were declared in both cities. While the National Weather Service’s three-month forecast is swinging slightly in favor of a warmer than normal winter, King County is drafting plans to plow even more roads if needed.
At its Oct. 2 meeting, the King County Council forwarded a proposal to committee, which if approved would allow it to plow an additional 70 miles of roadway. Some 50 miles of this would be in places above 500 feet in elevation and the remaining 20 miles would be set aside for unspecified lower-elevation roads to allow flexibility. More than half of the miles that are currently plowed are main roadways and arterials that are either commuter routes or connections between communities. The rest are smaller routes between towns or commuter routes.
The new miles that would be plowed are mainly neighborhood collector roads. The county also expects to clear roads faster, shortening its response time from five to four days for all categories of roads that it clears.
There are three options for achieving this. The first is the option preferred by the county, and would allow it to place contractors on-call. The county would retain snow and ice contractors to supplement the county staff and equipment. A county report estimated its Road Services Division division would need an additional 10 truck drivers along with more equipment operators and supervisors. This option was expected to cost around $350,000 annually.
The second option is to purchase additional snow equipment and hire more employees. The county would hire 18 additional Road Services Division employees and buy six additional dump trucks and plows, two pickup trucks and four crew trucks. During the rest of the year, the staff would perform other jobs such as road and drainage work. The county reports this would cost more than $7.4 million the first year and nearly $4.2 million in subsequent years, making it the most expensive.
The third option is a collaborative one where the county would partner with state agencies, but wouldn’t achieve the goal of shortening the time spent clearing roads from five to four days. This option would include finding enough qualified drivers as well as significant retrofitting of existing vehicles and would cost $714,000 for the first year for each storm. In following years, the price would drop to $114,000 per storm.
The report noted the county’s Road Services Division department’s financial struggles as a factor to be considered. Without new revenue sources, plowing the additional 70 miles will be paid for from other programs and projects.
Roads and bridges in King County are underfunded to the tune of $250 million each year, and money for capital investments is expected to run out within the next six years. An analysis by the company BERK found the county could use up to $500 million each year to fully fund transportation infrastructure projects.