January 8, 2009 in City

Closures bring truck traffic to a halt

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Kathleen Jestila of Kentucky sits in her truck at the Broadway Truck Stop in Spokane Valley, loaded with Kenworth parts that she need to deliver in Renton by 2:30 on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Serge Yantsevich was shut down in Spokane on Thursday, one of thousands of truckers idled by highway and pass closures across Washington.

He was headed to Seattle with a partial load of meat products after stopping in Spokane to deliver supplies for the military. “I pretty much have to sit and wait,” Yantsevich said.

Highway traffic in and out of the Seattle region was shut down because Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes were closed along with a flooded Interstate 5 south of Olympia. Stevens Pass reopened late Thursday afternoon.

Trucking companies were scrambling to move needed supplies, but many truckers were idled until weather and road conditions improved.

So far, Spokane consumers have seen only a few shortages: snow tires, snow chains, snow shovels and de-icer as well as a few types of groceries.

Yokes Fresh Markets reported that mushrooms are not being delivered.

Supplies of ground beef, fresh poultry and cigarettes are running low, too, said Ray Sprinkle, vice president of purchasing at URM Stores Inc., and shoppers may see a few holes on their grocery store shelves.

Stores, however, can grind their own beef, and frozen chickens are in good supply, Sprinkle said.

The biggest impact will be on the delivery of larger items, such as auto parts, building materials and mechanical products, said Jeff Benesch, vice president of personnel for Trans-System Inc., a national trucking company with three subsidiaries based on the West Plains.

“Obviously this winter in the Northwest has been unique and challenging,” Benesch said.

The state Department of Transportation said Thursday it was too early to estimate when Snoqualmie Pass would reopen, but that the DOT was hiring private contractors to help clear a mess of washouts, slides, undermined road beds and avalanche dangers. One section of I-5 near Centralia was under three feet of water, according to The Associated Press, and alternate north-south routes were blocked as well.

Similar flood- and weather-related shutdowns of I-90 and I-5 last winter cost the state economy an estimated $75 million, including a $28 million loss for a closure of I-90, according to a state study.

The AP reported that hundreds of truckers on Thursday had pulled rigs onto shoulders and into truck stops waiting for the highways to reopen.

Cross-country hauler Yantsevich, who was shut down at the Broadway Truck Stop in Spokane Valley, said he was considering joining the crowd at Ellensburg, then waiting for Snoqualmie Pass to reopen.

He said he is obliged to drop off his load in Seattle before reloading with apples for a return to the East Coast.

Tony Van Bastelaar, a Swift Transportation Co. driver, said the highway closures were preventing him from getting a new load to haul, so he was sitting in his cab waiting with Yantsevich at the Broadway Truck Stop, unusually full of rigs for mid-day hours.

“It’s a mess anyway you go,” said Juan Rangel of Hesperia, Calif., after pulling into the truck stop.

So far the U.S. Postal Service has not been slowed because it can ship by air, said Lisa Nystuen, customer relations coordinator in Spokane.

For critical supplies such as medicine, Pacific Courier Services uses charter aircraft to make deliveries, but getting goods to customers has been difficult this winter, said Tom Stearns, vice president of customer relations.

“I’ve been in the business 14 years and it’s the most interesting challenge I’ve seen,” he said.

Staff writer Jody Lawrence-Turner contributed to this report.


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