Wyoming's New Transformer-Looking Snow Plow Can Clear 2 Lanes At Once

Interstate 80 through western Wyoming will be patrolled by a new snow plow that looks like a Transformer. The new $150,000 "tow plow" extends off the side of a typical plow truck to clear more than two lanes at once.

Tracie Sullivan

December 09, 20235 min read

The Wyoming Department of Transportation's office in District 3, which covers the southwestern corner of the state, is read to deploy its newest weapon against winter — the tow plow.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation's office in District 3, which covers the southwestern corner of the state, is read to deploy its newest weapon against winter — the tow plow. (Courtesy Wyoming Department of Transportation)

The Wyoming Department of Transportation’s newest weapon against winter along Interstate 80 isn’t a beefed-up Transformer robot, even if it looks the part.

In the ongoing battle against Wyoming’s icy roads, the state Department of Transportation’s District 3 base in Evanston has added a new strategic reinforcement to its snow-clearing arsenal — the tow plow.

The tow plows look a bit like a jackknifed truck, but is really a traditional plow truck with extended side blades and a tow-behind machine that has another plow blade and a salt or sand spreader. The new system costs about $150,000, and WYDOT officials say it’s worth every penny.

As another Wyoming winter threatens to make I-80 one of the most dangerous in the nation — as happens when the snow starts to fly — WYDOT’s new tow plow will help clear I-80 from Evanston east in half the time, said Stephanie Harsha, a spokesperson for the department.

It’s A Beast

The tow plow hangs off the side of a truck at an angle and, when extended out, covers more than two lanes of highway. When a hydraulic arm swings the trailer sideways into the next lane of traffic, it more than doubles the amount of roadway the snowplow can clear.

It can clear up to 26 feet of roadway at a time, nearly triple the capacity of traditional plows that manage 10 feet at a time, or essentially one lane. This extended clearing capability means a truck equipped with a tow plow can catch more than two lanes of highway. With much of I-80 being two lanes each direction, this can mean clearing the travel lanes in one pass.

“The tow plow can do in one pass what it takes the typical snowplow to do in two to four passes,” Harsha said. “Especially in Wyoming, where we have limited manpower, this equipment cuts our time in half, so we get more done with less people and in less time.”

Tow plows aren't necessarily new as a technology, and WYDOT has a pair based in Casper. But this new one in Evanston brings more snow-clearing capacity to one of the critical winter driving areas of Wyoming.

I-80 A Target

This addition means there are two tow plows available to crews in District 3 covering a five-county area that includes Uinta, Lincoln, Sweetwater, Teton and Sublette counties.

“Once a plow and tow plow have made a pass, the two lanes are equally clear as opposed to making two separate passes by a single plow that will leave different lane conditions,” said Jordan Young, WYODOT deputy public affairs officer.

With the responsibility of ensuring road safety, the DOT faces the unique challenge of Wyoming’s stretch of I-80, often referred to as the “Snow Chi Minh Trail” during winter because it’s so dangerous. The new plow underscores the Department’s commitment to keeping the roads safe along this corridor, boasting the highest elevations on the 2,901-mile route spanning from the West to East Coasts.

“Driving I-80 through Wyoming is essentially driving over a mountain pass because of the high elevations. You cross the Continental Divide twice and we have elevations over 8,600 feet on that road, so yes, it is like driving over a mountain pass,” Harsha said. “This plow will help us keep that road safer for drivers and do it in half the time.”

Don’t Pass A Tow Plow

The WYODOT’s new Evanston-based tow plow will primarily be used in the southwest corner of the state on I-80.

“It can be used on two-lane highways, but is a little more difficult to maneuver there,” Harsha said.

For the safety of other vehicles on the road, tow plows have a rear lighting package that mimics the lights of the truck body. Depending on the snow load, it can travel at about 35-45 mph.

WYDOT in Evanston expects to deploy its new tow plow within the next two weeks. As drivers prepare to go out on the road, WYODOT is asking people to use caution when they come upon the tow plows.

Drivers should stay back at least 300 feet to give the plow drivers the area they need. Officials also emphasize that drivers should not try to pass them.

“I would rather be behind a snowplow than in front of one,” Harsha said. “So please don’t try to pass them by using the emergency lane. They kick up a lot of snow and it’s not safe. So, drivers just need to be prepared to give themselves time and slow down, stay back and be patient. We are keeping the roads safe to help people get where they need to go.”

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Tracie Sullivan