WSDOT blames 'perfect storm' for highway mess


by Glenn Farley / KING 5 News

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 7:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 23 at 7:08 PM

SEATTLE -- Gas cans on the side of Interstate 5 at Boeing Field are reminders of the mess that was there just 12 hours ago. 

Mike Signal returned to the spot on Tuesday to get his wife's abandoned car. While sitting in the "mother-of-all-traffic-jams," it ran out of gas, then the emergency flashers drained the battery.

"I'm kind of upset better preparations weren't taken," said Signal, a veteran of three similar late-afternoon winter disasters over the last few decades. 

For those who weren't out on southbound I-5 Monday night, the freeway was a parking lot. It took three hours for KING 5's Glenn Farley to just travel the length of Boeing Field. 

The cause of the backup in the southbound lanes was a bus and several trucks. The problem with the northbound lanes started on the Duwamish curves where a bridge froze over. 

The bridge was coated with an anti-icing brine before the storm Sunday night and Monday morning, and then salt mixed with sand later on, but that didn't work as planned.

"There's a range of temperature where the solution is effective," said Lorena Eng, WSDOT Regional Administrator for state highways north of Pierce County. She said salt doesn't work as well when the temperatures drop into the teens.

"In a perfect world, this storm would have happened in the middle of the night, then our crews would have been able to keep working it," Eng said.

But the timing couldn't have been worse as people started to leave from work just as the snow started to fly. 

Plows and de-icing trucks struggled to get through through traffic jams, and then trucks couldn't dump fresh salt onto fresh snow.  

Eng said if WSDOT could have done anything differently, not much would have changed, and there's no better formula for the de-icer their already using.