Know your snow route before you try to go anywhere in Tacoma

Tacoma city crews prepare for oncoming snowstorm.

City of Tacoma street operations are "all hands on deck" as forecasters call for a snow event that hasn't been seen in decades.
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City of Tacoma street operations are "all hands on deck" as forecasters call for a snow event that hasn't been seen in decades.

As this weekend’s major snowstorm blows into western Washington, government agencies are gearing up for slick roads, icy bridges and lots of powder.

Crews will prioritize highly traveled roads so don’t expect to see a snow plow on your cul de sac.


The city of Tacoma will deploy 15 snow plows and four sanding trucks. They will be in operation throughout the storm, said city spokeswoman Stacy Ellifritt.

The city will also treat roads with a brine mixture that will run 24 hours a day during the snowstorm.

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Tacoma’s equipment will pay the most attention to primary arterial routes. Those more than 40 roads include Pearl, South 72nd, Union, Orchard, North 30th and South Tyler streets.

Those are followed by secondary and auxiliary routes like Norpoint Way, South 12th Street and Proctor Street.

Tacoma crews will not plow residential streets.

A map of the city’s snow routes can be found on the city’s website: cityoftacoma.org/inclement_weather

Ellifritt urged residents to plan driving routes based on that map.

Residents who live on hills might consider legally parking their vehicle on a flat area, Ellifritt said.

Others who live on primary routes might also want to consider not parking on the street. Vehicles may get covered or blocked in by snow deposited by plows. It also makes it easier for crews to plow safely, she said.


Pierce County will be implementing its snow and ice emergency response plan, said Bruce Wagner, the county’s public works road operations manager.

The county will send out its 43 trucks, most equipped with plows, to keep roads clear.

“There will be periods of time that just won’t be possible,” Wagner said.

Like other agencies, Wagner expects the storm to temporarily overwhelm the region.

“We have the unique climate in the Pacific Northwest that we rarely have storms that cause this much impact,” Wagner said. “We just cannot afford to keep the resources on hand for these rare events that happen a couple of times a decade.”

The county will prioritize main travel routes including 112th Street, Canyon Road East, 176th Street East, Spanaway Loop Road and Wollochet Drive and 214th Avenue.

“We will send trucks into residential areas, but only after primary roads are cleared,” Wagner said.

Wagner acknowledged that residents are sometimes frustrated by icy residential roads.

“It’s almost always those residential roads that languish because they’re flat and shady and that’s where ice persists,” he said.


Like cities, the state prioritizes the most traveled routes. Crews with the state department of transportation will apply chemical de-icers before the storm hits. The chemical makes it harder for ice to bond with the roadway.

Often, just one lane on a multi-lane road might be clear. The seven-county area covered by WSDOT’s Olympic region includes 2,900 miles of travel lanes.

“We will have every available truck, plow and resource out clearing the roads as the event unfolds,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Cara Mitchell.

Roads will be slick and bridges, ramps, overpasses will be icy. Expect to encounter accidents and spin-outs. You might be an expert at winter driving. The driver sliding toward you might not be.

Like cities, the state doesn’t have enough equipment to keep up with a major snowstorm.

New snow plows cost $230,000 to $300,000 depending on size, Mitchell said.

Mitchell urged drivers to give plows and sanding trucks space as they do their jobs.

While crews will be working 24 hours a day, Mother Nature might still get the upper hand.

“If snow is falling faster than we can keep up with it, there’s nothing we can do,” she said.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.