During this past weekend, the Washington State Patrol had to send extra forces to the pass just to deal with traffic problems tied to recreation, said trooper Mark Francis.
On Friday alone, nine cars were towed because they were parked in no-parking areas on the shoulder of the highway. Troopers also were citing people for walking in unsafe areas on the highway, such as in avalanche zones or on icy surfaces, Francis said.
"This is a problem every year, but each year it starts anew," he said.
Troopers, state transportation crews and Stevens Pass staff work together to address the issues, he said. People who can't find parking in the main lots at the pass think they can park on the highway.
That creates headaches and limits the paths of the snow plows, Francis said. In addition, it increases the chance of a bad crash occurring that could shut down the road for hours.
"You're sitting where the snow goes, so the road gets worse and worse and worse, and essentially traffic and commerce can't get over one of our main passes in the state," he said.
Drivers also should not be stopping on the highway to drop off passengers, Francis said. Troopers were seeing that happen this weekend, too. People started driving alongside each other in the same lane to get past the makeshift drop-off zones.
"That obviously causes a backup," Francis said. "It can get so bad that traffic is backed up into avalanche zones, so people figure they'll just park and head up the hill."
During three big snow days so far this year, troopers have called tow trucks for a total of 15 cars parked on the highway near Stevens Pass, Francis said.
It's not just about issuing citations, either. Cars and pedestrians on the shoulder can be hit by other vehicles that lose traction and spin out. Plows also can't put their blades down near pedestrians because the ejected snow could cause injuries.
In the winters of 2010, 2011 and 2012, there were 101 collisions in the six-mile stretch of highway through the pass, according to the State Patrol.
Stevens Pass offers satellite parking with transportation at two different spots within a few miles of the main lots, said Chris Danforth, vice president of marketing and sales.
Pass staff hope to add another parking lot this summer, pending U.S. Forest Service approval, he said.
They've also created a Twitter account, @stevensupdates, that includes parking information. People can sign up to get text-message notifications about parking conditions at the pass, Danforth said. That's a good option, he said, because text messages tend to work better than other kinds of communication in areas without good cell service.
"It's a really good way to get real-time updates about what the parking situation is," Danforth said.
Stevens Pass officials recommend leaving early, practicing safe winter-driving and checking the website, www.stevenspass.com, and social media accounts before heading out from home.
Meanwhile, at Snoqualmie Pass, the State Patrol impounded four vehicles between Friday and Sunday for being parked in a hazardous area or for blocking snow removal, said trooper Chris Webb.
Illegal parking on the highway can bring a $124 citation, Francis said. Under state contracts, a tow will cost $178 plus a $45 dollar daily storage fee. Additional fees can apply to retrieve a vehicle from the tow yard on the weekends or after-hours.
Pedestrians who are not obeying traffic signs, such as those barring walking on the highway, can receive a $124 citation as well.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter driving tips
- Leave extra time for travel.
- Stay informed about weather, traffic hazards and road closures.
- Before a trip, check tires and fill up on gas.
- Keep a vehicle emergency kit with food, water and blankets — enough for children and pets, too.
- Clear snow, ice and frost from windows and headlights before leaving.
- Slow down and increase following distance in wet, icy, snowy or foggy weather.
- Don't use cruise control in those conditions.
- Yield to plows, road sanders and transit buses. Stay at least 50 feet back from sanding or deicing trucks and plows.
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