SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington State Department of Transportation has closed five rest areas north of Seattle along Interstate 5 because of excessive trash, vandalism and a staffing shortage.
Rest areas closed Friday in both directions at Smokey Point between Marysville and Arlington and both directions at Custer, north of Bellingham, The Seattle Times reported.
“We’ve seen broken toilets, broken sinks and stalls,” agency spokesperson Bart Treece, who noted maintenance crew members work in pairs for safety now, said. “Some people extend their stays and leave trash.”
The southbound Silver Lake rest area in South Everett, which was already closed, will remain shut.
The closures will last at least three months and will be reevaluated in 2022, the agency said.
Normally, four full-time workers maintain the Smokey Point and South Everett rest areas, but there’s only one employed there, Treece said. That’s part of a 32-person shortage in maintenance workers in northwest Washington, caused in part when fears of recession led to a hiring freeze early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, there’s no plan to block the other 43 of WSDOT’s 48 rest stops for winter.
Treece described Friday’s closures as interim steps until staffing levels improve. Any permanent closures would need federal permission because interstate standards typically mandate a rest area every 60 miles (96 kilometers), a state planning manual says.