While two newcomers to the Evanston City Council aren’t fans of plans by the state to build hundreds of new semitruck parking spaces off Interstate 80 near the city, many other city officials and locals are.
Plans by the Wyoming Department of Transportation to spend $33.3 million to build 365 new parking spaces raised the eyebrows of City Council members Jennie Hegeman and Jesse Lind. Both told Cowboy State Daily last week they were angry because they felt the city had not been involved in the process of locating the lot.
They also took issue with the project itself saying they don’t want Evanston to be known as a “truck stop.”
Just because Hegeman and Lind didn’t know about it doesn’t mean the city wasn’t included, Mayor Kent Williams told Cowboy State Daily.
He attributes the council members’ comments to their short tenure in office, which only began a year ago.
That said, the city has been in talks with WYDOT for quite some time and is glad to see the truck overflow project move forward.
Utah’s No Help
With Evanston located so close to the state border with Utah, Williams said the biggest problem the city faces is Utah’s unwillingness to help mitigate congestion in Wyoming by closing I-80 on its side during severe winter storms.
“If Utah was willing to shut down I-80 on their end, that would be a huge help, but they have never been willing to shut it down,” Williams said. “So what happens is the trucks keep driving and they don’t know that the road is closed up ahead. Then they are forced to get off in Evanston.”
Suddenly, all those truckers are in Evanston and I-80 is closed, leaving them with nowhere to go. Often, that means they park in any spot around town they can find.
Williams said the city doesn’t begrudge the truckers as locals know they’re vital to the local, state and national economies, but it would like some help from Utah.
“We love our truckers. We don’t have an issue with the truckers. They’re as frustrated as everyone else because they’re in those big semis trying to find a place to park and there is no place,” he said. “We know the truckers help fund our local economy, so it’s not that we don’t want the truckers.
“We just would like some help with the congestion and Utah could help mitigate some of the problem.”
Utah Says Keep It Open
Utah Department of Transportation spokesperson Mitchell Shaw however, told Cowboy State Daily that state does not close its roads except for in extreme cases because it’s their job to keep motorists moving.
“Our philosophy is to keep the roads open for the public to travel on,” Shaw said. “We don’t close our roads unless it is an unusual circumstance.”
That doesn’t help Evanston with more than 250 trucks crossing the state line into Wyoming every day, said Uinta County Commissioner Chairman Mark Anderson.
The buildup of trucks within the city limits can get so bad it prevents locals from even being able to drive on the main streets. Trucks are parked everywhere – from side roads to turning lanes.
That means those newcomers on the council who don’t want Evanston to become a “parking lot” are off, because it already becomes that when I-80 closes.
“You can’t even imagine what happens here when I-80 closes. It is insane,” Anderson said. “These trucks will even park in the turning lanes and on frontage roads that have dead ends and then they get jackknifed trying to get out and then it’s a half of a day before people can get to the businesses located on that frontage road because they’re blocking the road.
“Our residents can’t even run down to the store to get a gallon of milk because the roads are so insane.”
WYDOT spokesperson Jordon Young said the agency has an ongoing positive relationship with the city and county, and will continue to work together on issues.
There Was Collaboration
The mayor said he believes Hegeman and Lind did not understand these ongoing issues when they provided their comments and while they may not like Evanston being a stop for truckers, that’s reality.
“We know that our economy is funded in a large part by I-80 and the people who stop here to shop,” Williams said. “That includes truckers. We don’t want the truckers thinking that we don’t want them here. We just need some relief during the winter. The truckers also don’t like it. They don’t like not having a place to park and being able to get food and showers when they need them.”
Williams and Anderson both said WYDOT has been working with Evanston and Uinta County for years to find a solution to the traffic congestion.
“We have been working on this issue with WYDOT for years,” Anderson said. “They have been so good to include us in the conversations and to discuss our needs. The issue wasn’t ever about not working with us, we had decided this a long time ago but there was a funding issue.
“So, when they announced the other day they had received that grant to put in the parking spaces, we were elated.”
Also excited is state Sen. Wendy Schuler R-Evanston, who said she has been involved in the decision-making process as both a representative for the people in the area and as a member of the Senior Citizen Board.
“I have been in these discussions for years,” she said. “I just think the council members are very new and didn’t know because they haven’t been there. We had come up with this project a while ago, there just wasn’t the funding. I was excited to find out we had some money to finally do it. We are grateful to WYDOT. This project will really help Evanston.”
‘It Is Going To Help’
The Senior Citizen Board will offer truckers at the parking spaces shuttle service to and from Evanston via the senior transit system.
Besides conversations to try and find solutions, Uinta County Commissioner Eric South said WYDOT conducted several site tours with local officials to try and find the best place for the parking spaces.
“I was on the task force to see where we could put the parking spaces long before those two were elected,” South said. “We looked at multiple locations for this.”
South, like the others, said while the project may only offer a “band-aid” for now, it will still help relieve the pressure off the city during road closures.
“We know it’s a band-aid, but it is going to help,” he said. “People can’t even imagine what it’s like here when that freeway shuts down and we are grateful to have this relief.”