I-90 Construction

Semi trucks and cars head east on I-90 near Thorp in June 2018. Washington State Patrol plans for an increased presence over the weekend, keeping in line with traditional holiday traffic levels.

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Memorial Day traffic may look completely different this year compared to experiences in the past, but drivers shouldn’t expect law enforcement to be sitting on the sidelines.

Traffic counts on Interstate 90 between Snoqualmie Pass and Vantage have seen double digit decreases from normal numbers over the last two months as a result of nonessential travel restrictions under the state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

Despite a trend of nicer weather and loosening of fishing restrictions, Washington State Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Meagan Lott said the numbers are still trending down compared to normal for this time of year. For the weekend of May 8, she said Friday and Saturday saw a modest 4% decrease, with Sunday coming in at 22%. The weekend of May 15 saw a 16% decrease on Friday, followed by a 20% decrease on Saturday and a 32% decrease on Sunday.

Under normal circumstances, Lott said Memorial Day weekend sees the largest increase in traffic for the year, with over 50,000 vehicles travelling on Interstate 90 between Snoqualmie Pass and Vantage each day. Normal traffic numbers for this time of year average 30,000 vehicles per day in that stretch.

“With the state’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order in place, we’re obviously not going to see those numbers this weekend,” she said. “We may see an increase just because it’s a longer weekend and it’s the first holiday of summer. We may see an increase in traffic, but not the numbers we would typically see.”

COUNTY’S REQUEST

On Thursday, Kittitas County officials asked that travelers not come to the county this weekend and requested help from the state to get the word out. County officials pointed out there is no overnight camping currently allowed in Kittitas County, which remains under phase 1 of the state reopening plan.

This weekend could proved critical to the county’s request to advance to phase 2. A COVID-19 outbreak at Twin City Food placed the county’s application on hold, but on Tuesday the county will submit a report to the state on how it handled the outbreak, with the hope that approval is granted to advance to phase 2 on Wednesday.

TROOPERS ON THE ROADS

During the state order, Washington State Patrol Trooper John Bryant said officers have maintained a presence on local highways while adhering to health protocols such as social distancing and use of personal protective equipment.

Although troopers saw the effects of decreased traffic, especially at the beginning of the order, Bryant said they have observed passenger vehicle traffic gradually increasing as Memorial Day draws closer.

“Passenger car traffic is slowly starting to creep up,” he said. “As the weather starts to get warmer, we’re seeing patterns with drivers that have boats or RV’s or anything they tow behind, plus vehicles that usually move this time of year, like the rental types of trucks. They’re starting to increase quite a bit.”

Bryant said the amount of traffic stops by troopers over the last to months have decreased, but troopers have seen an increase in stops for infractions such as aggressive driving and excessive speeding.

“Aggressive is anything 20 miles per hour or greater in speed, combined with another violation,” he said. “We’ve seen a bit of an uptick in aggressive drivers, especially over 100 miles an hour in the area. It should be a lot less, but it’s not.”

Bryant said troopers have also seen an increase in traffic stops involving younger drivers driving aggressively and at a high rate of speed.

“That’s always a concern too, because the younger drivers really don’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “For them to go at a higher rate of speed is really risky.”

Bryant said accident counts have been proportionate to the amount of traffic in the region over the last two months, but he said the majority of accidents troopers have responded to are connected to aggressive driving.

“It’s driving too fast for conditions,” he said.

ENHANCED PRESENCE

As troopers gear up for Memorial Day weekend, Bryant said the mindset is to not worry about any decreases in traffic, and that troopers will be approaching it as if it was a normal holiday weekend in regards to enforcement.

“We’re going to have extra patrols out there,” he said. “Troopers are ready to stop for any of the normal things we’re looking for.”

Bryant said troopers will be keeping an eye out for the aggressive driving patterns they have been experiencing lately, as well as distracted driving, seatbelt violations and driving under the influence.

“We’re going to bring you out of the car using protective gear and run a sobriety test,” he said.

Bryant said drivers also have to be conscious of the extreme wind patterns the region has been experiencing lately.

“Drivers really have to pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “They’re not necessarily driving aggressively, but they’re just not used to that kind of wind. You’ve really got to pay attention, and it’s going to tire you out. You’ve got to take those rest breaks.”

Regardless of what the numbers show for traffic patterns over the weekend, Bryant said troopers will focus on the goal of having everyone get to where they are going safely.

“We expect a normal summer weekend,” he said. “If there’s less, that’s fine, but if there’s more we’re ready for it.”

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