Truckers know, the weather in southern Wyoming in the wintertime can make or break a haul.
What some are wondering, though, is why the conditions on Highway 85 just across the Colorado state line were so much better than those in Wyoming during and after a major storm hit the southern part of the state Thursday?
Phil Losinski hauls jet fuel for MG Oil/Heartland out of South Dakota, and his run yesterday took him through Cheyenne just as the storm was settling in.
What he witnessed, in his opinion, was a lack of preparation on the part of the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
“The thing that I noticed right away when I came into Cheyenne was they had not done any prepping for the storm that was going on,” Losinski told Cowboy State Daily.
He said he expected that some de-icing compound would have been put down in preparation for the snow that was forecast, but saw no sign that any of that had happened.
“I see that all the time in places that are concerned about the traffic,” Losinski said. “They will lay down de-icer before the storm ever gets there.”
Storm Stalls Traffic In Cheyenne
The storm system, which would eventually drop between 5 and 7 inches of snow on the Cheyenne area, had begun blowing into town mid-day. That’s when Losinski said he stopped at a Sinclair station just off I-25 and watched as traffic began to pile up on the exit ramp on the opposite side of the interstate because of the ice and snow that was rapidly accumulating.
“We’ve got traffic stuck on the ramp going up to the Flying J truck stop, and it was backed up clear out over the I-80 overpass,” he said.
While the traffic jam lasted only about 45 minutes, it was the overall condition of the highway that concerned Losinski the most. He stayed in the Sinclair lot overnight, waking up to a parking lot covered with ice.
“I was a little nervous this morning,” said Losinski. “But my friend I was talking to, he had parked down in Fort Lupton (Colorado), said it was good down there.”
Although he was traversing ice and snow on Highway 85 as he headed south out of Cheyenne, Losinski said that just moments after he crossed the Colorado border, the roads were instantly better.
“Right across the border, one foot into Colorado, bam! The road is pretty much dry and they’ve never had to touch it with a snowplow,” he said.
Losinski credited the bare roads with pre-storm preparations by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“There was a lot of snow on the ground in Denver,” he said, “but the highway was good.”
WYDOT Storm Response
Doug McGee, a public relations specialist with WYDOT, told Cowboy State Daily that while WYDOT will sometimes pretreat highways prior to storm systems, those measures don’t always work.
“We do pretreat in areas where it’s appropriate,” he said. “But the high wind and the high elevation and consistent low temperatures make a lot of those chemicals that work in other parts of the country, they just don’t work here the way that they work there. And in fact, sometimes they can actually create more issues.”
WYDOT does employ a number of compounds to mitigate icy road conditions, such as a salt/sand mixture, salt brine and magnesium chloride, he said. In some parts of the state, a beet juice brine is applied to the highway to melt icy roads, but that compound isn’t available everywhere.
But WYDOT spokesperson Jordan Achs said those measures aren’t always effective, depending on the weather conditions.
“We do use salt sand when conditions allow,” she said. “But sometimes salt will blow away in the wind, or it’ll create more ice because the blowing snow will dilute it and make it to where it’s less effective in treating a black ice situation.”
WYDOT Employees Use the Roads, Too
McGee and Achs stress that snowplow crews in all parts of the state are committed to keeping roads safe because the lives of their families are also at stake.
“They don’t only drive (the roads) in the plows, but they drive them taking their kids to school, to do stuff in their personal lives,” said Achs. “They are part of their communities as well, and they take a lot of pride in making sure the roads are as clear as possible.”
She said that WYDOT employees know their regions and make decisions on how to treat roads based on what they know works best.
“They definitely take a case-by-case approach to really hyper focusing on their area, their jurisdiction,” said Achs.