Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Rawlins, particularly around the areas of Walcott Junction and Elk Mountain between Laramie and Rawlins, is beyond treacherous in the winter. Strong winds and snow accumulation force that section of busy interstate into frequent closures during the winter.
That’s why Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) Director Luke Reiner has suggested moving the interstate to a path parallel to U.S. Highway 30 north of its current route.
With an anticipated price tag between $6.1 and $12.6 billion, however, the idea has hit a roadblock.
Funding Is Key
Reiner told Cowboy State Daily that with large projects, even though federal money will account for the bulk of the funding, there is generally a requirement that matching funds be provided from the private sector or state.
“With most of the big grants that we get, the federal government typically kicks in 90%, and we kick in 10%,” he said.
So even 10% of what the project would cost could run anywhere from about $600 million to more than $1.2 billion, which is not feasible considering the state’s current budget, Reiner said.
Also, those estimates were made in 2020 before supply chain and inflation issues have spiked construction costs.
“And obviously the price has gone up since then, because prices aren’t going down,” he said. “We just don’t have the capability to match that large of a project.”
The notion of re-routing I-80 isn’t dead, however.
“I’ve been to a couple conferences, and when I bring it up people have listened,” said Reiner. “But the right person with the deep checkbook has not come up and said, ‘Hey, we love that, how about we just fund it?’”
Been Thought Of Before
Addressing one of the most dangerous stretches of interstate in the nation isn’t a new idea.
“If you look at a map, you’ll see that the old highway, Highway 30, goes further to the north, and then sort of comes down from the north into I-80,” Reiner told Cowboy State Daily in January. “Rumor has it that when they went to build I-80, that the initial route followed the route of Highway 30.
“And somebody made the decision, ‘No, we’re going to move closer to these very beautiful mountains,’ to which the locals said, ‘Bad idea,’ based on weather. And it has proved to be true.”
Reiner explained that re-routing I-80 would mean fewer closures, avoiding delays on a crucial shipping route through the heart of the United States.
“I-80 is a route of national commerce. And when we shut it down, we’re all just very aware that it’s a big deal,” Reiner said. “That wind event negatively affects the economy of our nation, because it stops the trucks.”
But he said the idea, although not at the top of the agency’s to-do list, is still under consideration.
“We’ll continue to keep our eyes open, and think through various options that might be available,” he said.