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Originally published Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM


"Blame our government, not Exxon, for higher gas prices."

A sampling of readers' letters, faxes and e-mail.

Cold snaps

Pass on upgrade? Snoqualmie plows money to the state

Editor, The Times:

With news about Snoqualmie Pass being closed many days due to weather issues, it would seem Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) needs to consider making substantial improvements to correct a problem that brings our second-most-important highway to a standstill almost every year ["Snoqualmie Pass to remain closed until at least 9 a.m. Friday; governor declares state of emergency," Times page one, Jan. 31, and "State highway snow removal costs over budget," News, Jan. 14].

Millions are lost in delays for businesses, and thousands more people are forced to change travel plans. Even just chaining up trucks causes millions of hours in delays and increased fuel burn for trucking companies; plus it's dangerous work.

The planned Snoqualmie Pass East project doesn't go nearly far enough to fix this problem. Avalanches may be better avoided, but heavy snow and ice will still routinely close the road during a typical winter storm.

The problem with roads built through mountain ravines is that they tend to collect a lot of snow. But there is a simple fix and it's already just a couple of miles west of the pass: The elevated westbound section of Interstate 90 above Denny Creek is the perfect type of mountain highway because it is protected from avalanche and doesn't collect snow the way a ravine does. This type of construction also doesn't leave a gash in the landscape or conflict with wildlife, which are also aims for WSDOT.

Those sections that typically fill up with snow should be elevated above it so the plows can keep up. Under the paving, liquid-filled piping would use the ground's natural heat to keep ice from forming on the road surface, forever eliminating chains and de-icing chemicals. It can be just as costly to keep doing things the same old way.

The governor should first commit to raising I-5 above the floodplain near Centralia and rebuilding I-90 at the pass before any other new road projects happen.

Our state's economy is built on trade, and having our two major highways routinely close down many days each year is a far more pressing issue than adding more commuter lanes to I-405.

— David Wright, Seattle

Skidiot's guide to physics

I traveled to and from Stevens Pass ski area on Tuesday and have a friend who did so on Thursday. On Tuesday, the road conditions were as bad as I have seen in 20 years of skiing at Stevens Pass. I understand that Thursday was much the same.

On neither day was anyone checking to make sure that vehicles attempting to go up the pass were properly equipped with traction tires or chains. On Tuesday evening, there was at least one semi stalled about halfway between the hairpin turn and the summit without chains on. Fortunately, it had not jackknifed and vehicles could still get past.

My understanding is that the Thursday closure was caused by semis that did not have chains on and jackknifed or slid out of control. The newspapers reported at least one other closure on Friday caused by a jackknifed semi without chains.

In years past, a Washington State Patrol officer was stationed at the final chain-up area on Stevens Pass (just before the hairpin turn), checking every vehicle to make sure passenger vehicles either were all-wheel-drive or had chains installed, and that trucks had chains.

With Snoqualmie Pass closed, and Stevens Pass the only realistic alternative for travel between Seattle/Everett and Eastern Washington, it would seem to be a no-brainer to post someone on Stevens Pass to keep traffic from being stopped by idiot drivers who ignore the "chains required" signs.

Whoever at WSP was in charge of Stevens Pass last week blew it, and should be reprimanded.

— Douglas Wheeler, Seattle

Sweaters thrown off

Headline on front page of The Seattle Times: "Snow in passes just won't stop; Snoqualmie Pass closed" [Local News, Feb. 1].

Article on page 6 of same paper: "Shrinking snowpack a threat for West" [News, Feb. 1].

What is a reader to believe?

— Grant Woodfield, Edmonds

Tracks to the precipice

I've been following environmental articles in The Times recently and can't help but notice that one of the most frightening problems surrounding global climate change is being largely ignored. Most of the focus is solely on environmental consequences, such as melting ice or loss of habitats and biodiversity.

I don't mean to undermine the importance of such issues, but we seem to be neglecting the potential of global climate change to become the largest humanitarian crisis in history.

Whether it is direct consequences of global climate change (floods, droughts, heat waves) that force people to become climate refugees, or whether it is indirect causes tied to global climate change (i.e., wars over diminishing water resources), the number of people displaced could be massive.

We've already seen what nature can do (Bangladesh) or can cause us to do (the Darfur conflict has its roots in a search for water), but it seems that when most people hear the words "global climate change," all they think of is polar bears drowning at the North Pole.

We need to recognize the possibility for severe humanitarian consequences as well.

— Chris Lewis, Shoreline

Some canned heat

Can we please have a moratorium on letters on causes of global warming unless they are from bona fide scientists with expertise in a relevant area?

This isn't politics, where every opinion has some validity; this is science, where only the opinions of scientific peers are meaningful.

You presumably wouldn't publish a letter from Joe Blow in Bellevue commenting on string theory, so don't publish one from him commenting on global warming.

— Ed Burns, Skykomish

Hot pockets

Silver linings

With Exxon reporting record profits ["Exxon's eye-popping yearly earnings: $40.6 billion," News, Feb. 2], count me as one of the few who thinks this is a good thing.

If you have a 401(k), chances are you own shares of Exxon's stock and have benefited. The company's largest shareholders are companies like Barclays, Vanguard and Fidelity, which manage mutual funds owned by you and me.

Last year alone, Exxon returned $35.6 billion to investors. If you wrote that as a check to each of the 113 million households in the U.S., it would be $314. Talk about a real economic stimulus package!

Meanwhile, our government is causing rampant inflation, with its funny-money-backed stimulus package.

Blame our government, not Exxon, for higher gas prices.

For those paying with U.S. dollars, oil has quadrupled in price over the past four years. Four years ago, an ounce of gold would buy you roughly 12 barrels of oil; an ounce today would get you roughly 10.

— Kevin Morrill, Kirkland

Fleece in the hole

While Exxon Mobile raked in a record $40 billion profit and claims no price gouging, grandma has to keep her heat set at 55 and still needs help with her heating-oil bill.

Thank you, Mr. President.

— Ralph Kratz, Ellensburg

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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