By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
“Your GPS is wrong. This road is CLOSED!!”
It’s not a sign you want to see when you are traveling across Wyoming in the winter.
But because so many people have ended up on County Road 401 south of Rawlins — which is closed in the winter — Carbon County officials installed the sign on a gate blocking the road.
Google Maps attempts to reroute people on this road when Interstate 80 between Saratoga/Walcott Jct. and Rawlins is closed.
This isn’t an isolated incident either.
For much of the summer, Google Maps tried to route people through Utah and Colorado because the app wrongly thought a portion of Interstate 80 was closed. Maybe a link to the story?
There was roadwork going on and two lanes were shutdown but the other two lanes accommodated both directions of traffic.
Google’s directions added on a hefty eight hours to the trip.
“It is a beautiful scenic route, but not necessarily built for the level of traffic I-80 gets daily,” WYDOT spokesperson Jordan Achs told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
That re-routing is an inconvenience. A big inconvenience, yes. But nothing compared to the consequences which could happen on a closed road in the winter.
Kandis Fritz, Carbon County Road and Bridge Coordinator, said getting stuck on a closed road could be very dangerous.
“Because we get below freezing temperatures,” she said. “You could run out of fuel, you could run out of food.”
Fritz said the highest drift so far on County Road 401 has been 16-feet. In prior years, snow drifts have hit 22 feet.
That’s why WYDOT is hoping people access its information as they drive across the state.
It’s app “511” is updated in real time so if there’s a road closure, strong winds, significant snow, ice, etc., users will know about it.
“It’s a great tool for getting the word out to people especially for those passing through Wyoming who don’t know the area,” Achs said.
While in urban states, there will be many different ways to get to a location. In Wyoming, there may only be one. Or two.
So when WYDOT says the road is closed, it’s closed and trying to go around the road is a bad idea.
Take the guy from California two years ago when he drove around the gate on Interstate 80 during a blizzard in his Mini Cooper.
He, of course, got stuck on the closed Interstate.
Two snowplow drivers who were trying to avoid the Mini Cooper got in an accident which halted cleanup activity in the area.
Subsequently all of the snowplows were then stuck on I-80 until the wreckage could be moved from the road which severely impacted all cleanup efforts for miles.
“Because of this one individual, our entire fleet of plow trucks were landlocked,” a trooper told Cowboy State Daily. “This cost tens of thousands of dollars to the truckers and really hampered snow removal efforts.”
On top of that, the rescue efforts were a mess. The Californian was wearing shorts and Birkenstocks so they had to find him clothes to wear while his broken vehicle was getting worked-on.
Crowdsourced Road Updates
In addition to WYDOT’s app, a good Facebook page to follow is Wyoming Road and Weather Conditions Reports Updates.
It’s a mouthful. But there’s good information there.
Anyone can post questions and crowdsourcing takes care of the rest.
Be aware, it can get sharp-tongued.
When someone on Thursday said he was riding his motorcycle from Cody to Denver on Christmas Day and wondered what the roads would be like, he got what he deserved.
“Paved. The entire way,” wrote Bill Mills.
“May not even be a road by then,” suggested another commenter.
“Windy, snowing, raining, tornadoes, drifting, freezing, fog, whiteout and one slick spot,” Nyle Tuckett wrote.
Legitimate questions are handled more politely.