I-5 closure costly for Washington truckers

The closure of I-5 has slowed freight deliveries throughout Western Washington and is costing trucking companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in added travel expenses.

“It’s been one of those days,” said Bob Peterson, vice president of Northwest operations at Gordon Trucking Inc., based in Pacific. Several hundred of Gordon Trucking’s fleet of trucks have been affected by the closure, Peterson said, and he and his staff spent the day Tuesday contacting clients and advising them of their reduced options.

“We don’t have any trucks actually sitting down there waiting,” Peterson said, “but we’re either rerouting them or delaying their departures.”

A 20-mile stretch of I-5 south of Centralia has been closed to traffic in both directions since late Monday night.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is predicting the freeway will remain closed at least through today while crews wait for the Chehalis River and Dillenbaugh Creek to recede.

Stan Vander Pol, president of Auburn-based Peninsula Truck Lines, said the closure has badly disrupted his company’s operations and is costing at least $10,000 a day in added expenses.

The recommended detour for trucks is over Snoqualmie Pass to Yakima and through the Columbia Gorge to Portland — an extra 180 miles one way.

In the trucking industry, a rule of thumb for figuring expenses is $1.50 a mile, including truck, driver and fuel, Vander Pol said. That means about $540 on a round trip from Tacoma to Portland.

Like other trucking companies, Peninsula has been forced to pick and choose among its deliveries, giving priority to urgent deliveries like medical supplies and perishables.

That has meant many disappointed customers, he said.

“The reality is, we have limited resources as to what we can do,” Vander Pol said. “We normally run 15 schedules a night between Portland and Seattle. You can do that with 15 drivers if they can do a round trip. If they can’t, you need 30.”

At a jammed parking lot at the Restover Truck Plaza south of Olympia, the final truck stop before the closure, drivers killed time while waiting for the waters to recede, trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Surjit Dhillom was among a group of seven drivers leaning against the brick wall of the truck stop’s convenience store.

“We’re just killing time,” he said. “You can’t stay in the truck all day. You have to do something.”

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