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I-90 Closures Screw Up More Than Your Ski Vacation

Washington State Department of Transportation
Crews work to clear Interstate 90 after an icy storm hit Snoqualmie Pass in January.

 When a major thoroughfare closes for bad weather – like Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass – it's more than an inconvenience.  It might put a damper on your ski vacation, sure, but did you know many things headed to your store shelves might come to a screeching halt?

Most of the time, Washington-grown goods like hay, lentils and onions make their way in trucks across I-90 from Eastern Washington before they’re shipped all over the world. That’s just the export side. There's tons of stuff going the other direction.

"You name it — anything from toys to garments — and that's what people don't realize is, a lot of stuff is imported and needs to go over that road, and if it's closed, things aren't going anywhere," said Shelley Moine of International Freight Systems, a local freight forwarding company that moves products around the globe.

According to the Port of Seattle, four in 10 jobs in Washington are dependent on the import-export business.

When weather is too severe to navigate the pass, it’s perhaps truckers who are hit the hardest, as Elisa Henderson a dispatcher at Lori’s Trucking in Tacoma knows all too well.

"So when these drivers are stuck on the other side of the pass, they're not able to get to the ports.  And that's the real thing — every time we're sitting, we're not making money," said Henderson.

In fact they’re losing money. Henderson says they pay $200 a day if they can’t make it to port to pull their containers from the ships.

Truckers have only a few other options besides I-90. During a January storm, some drivers took U.S. Highway 12 through Yakima. That's 180 miles out of the way. Others choose to wait it out.

"You can drive up and down I-90 and see the trucks lined up, sometimes for several miles, just waiting for the pass to open," said Travis Phelps, spokesman for Washington state's Department of Transportation.

Whether you’re waiting on the road in icy rain, or standing in front of an empty store shelf – the advice is all the same: be patient.


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