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Union Pacific Train Catches Fire Near Rock Springs

in News/Transportation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A fire broke out near Rock Springs over the weekend when a Union Pacific train hauling flammable material derailed, according to railroad officials.

UP spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza detailed the events of the crash to Cowboy State Daily in an email.

Around 2:55 p.m. on Saturday, 39 cars of the train derailed, sparking a fire that involved nine cars.

The train was hauling 116 rail cars, which were carrying mixed freight including alcohol, which was involved in the fire. There were no injuries and the fire was finally extinguished late Sunday night.

“The cause of the derailment is under investigation,” Espinoza said. “Crews have moved the debris and damaged rail cars from the tracks, which will be hauled away sometime in the near future. Our engineering teams made the necessary repairs to reopen both main lines.”

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WYDOT To Close 10 Rest Areas To Cut Costs

in Economy/News/Transportation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation will close 10 rest areas throughout the state later this month to reduce the agency’s operational costs.

In a news release issued Friday morning, Gov. Mark Gordon announced the closures will be effective June 15 and are prompted by a need for WYDOT to reduce costs due to budgetary shortfalls.

The closures were approved by the Wyoming Transportation Commission during its recent special meeting.

“This is a painful reality but a necessary step given our state’s fiscal situation,” Gordon said in a news release. “This will have real impacts, not only for travelers, but for the custodial staff contracted to provide services to these facilities. These workers are our friends and neighbors in Wyoming communities around the state.”

The rest areas that will close include those near Lusk on U.S. Highway 18; Guernsey on U.S. 26; Greybull on U.S. 14-16-20; Moorcroft on Interstate 90; Star Valley on U.S. 89; Fort Steele on Interstate 80; Sundance on Interstate 90; Upton on U.S. 16, and Orin Junction and Chugwater, both located on Interstate 25.

“We took a hard look at all of our rest areas and came up with a list of those that we feel we can close with a minimal amount of impact to our travelers,” WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner said in the same release. “It was a hard decision but one that we came to based on the needs of the public and to ensure we maintain a balanced budget.”

WYDOT officials sent letters to local community leaders and the contractors who work at the rest areas notifying them of the closures.

The rest area closures will result in a savings to WYDOT of approximately $197,453 from June 15 through Sept. 30. After that, the department will save about $789,812 per year.

“Although these rest areas will close, motorists will still have access to facilities in neighboring communities,” Reiner said. “Each of the rest areas that are closing are within a reasonable distance of a town that has facilities for the public.”

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Utah Woman Killed In Sublette County Crash Due To Texting And Driving

in News/Transportation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Utah woman became the 30th fatality on Wyoming highways this year when she was killed in a crash in Sublette County over Memorial Day weekend.

Robyn Matthews, 31, was driving a Chevy Blazer westbound on Wyoming Highway 351 around 10:30 a.m. on May 22 at a high rate of speed when the vehicle drifted off the roadway to the right, according to a report from the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Matthews overcorrected in steering to the left, which caused the Blazer to cross the center line and exit the road. She overcorrected again back to the right, which caused the Blazer to trip and roll multiple times before colliding with a dirt embankment.

The Utah woman wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the Blazer during the roll. Two children were in the back seat and were restrained in a seatbelt and a child restraint seat. They were transported via helicopter to the University of Utah Primary Children’s Hospital.

Speeding and texting while driving are being investigated by the Wyoming Highway Patrol as contributing factors in the crash.

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Two Men Killed In Semi Collision Near Laramie

in News/Transportation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two men were killed last week after their pickup was struck by a semi-truck near Laramie.

Harvey Besneatte, 71, and Robert Besneatte, 54, were driving southbound on U.S. Highway 287 in a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup around 11 a.m on May 21. The Dodge pulled to the right shoulder, across from a private drive, and attempted what appeared to be a left-hand U-turn, according to a report from the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The driver of the Dodge failed to see the semi driving a short distance behind the truck. The semi’s driver attempted to avoid the collision by moving to the northbound lane, however the semi struck the driver’s side of the Dodge in a broadside collision.

The Dodge was pushed off the road to the left, where it entered a soft dirt borrow pit. It rolled approximately one-half times, coming to a rest on the roof, facing west. The driver and passenger were wearing their seat belts, but succumbed to their injuries at the scene.

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Rancher Videos 2,600 Sheep Crossing Bridge By Drone

in Agriculture/News/Transportation

2600 sheep crossing Ten Sleep Creek, but don't try to count them…you're liable to fall asleep. No sound…double-time.

Posted by Don Anderson on Saturday, May 2, 2020

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Our friends over at the radio station 95.5 My Country, spotted something pretty interesting the other day: an aerial view of 2,600 sheep crossing a river in Wyoming.

Seems like a rancher up in Ten Sleep got the idea to launch a drone above a bridge over Ten Sleep Creek and then began moving the sheep across the bridge.

What’s it like? It’s popular. Don Anderson said the video has been viewed more than 10,000 times now.

We think it looks a little like driving down to Denver International Airport on I-25.  It starts off at a good pace. Someone gets confused or drives slowly in the passing lane (which should be a felony) and all of a sudden, there’s mass confusion followed by a pileup.

Thanks to sheepdogs (and they are amazing to watch in this video) and a few cowboys, the traffic gets going again.

The Colorado Highway Patrol could learn something from this video.  Enjoy!

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Snowy Range Road Reopens Ahead of Schedule

in News/Transportation

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You know it’s close to Memorial Day when Snowy Range road (Wyoming Highway 130) finally opens up, and true to schedule, the road was reopened this year on Monday.

The 68-mile-pass, which is only open for a few months each year, gets clobbered by snow during the offseason. It still could be inundated with snow at some point this year. After all, some parts of the road have elevations of more than 10,800 feet.

Last year, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) told Cowboy State Daily reporter Ike Fredregill that despite the warmer weather, motorists need to exercise caution.

“It is still May and we are high up in Wyoming, so it can always get a little icy, particularly in the mornings and evenings, when it’s out of the sun,” the WYDOT spokesman said. “So we always tell people to watch out for some slush and some slick spots until it can really get melted down later in the season.”

Cowboy State Daily videographer Mike McCrimmon joined a heavy equipment operator last year during the annual clearing.

He told McCrimmon that with 15-plus foot drifts on the road common, breakdowns occur and that’s why the two crews travel with a full-time mechanic.

“It’s easier to have a mechanic up here with us so they can fix problems right away instead of someone having to drive up from Laramie,” he said.

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WYDOT Data Shows Big Drop In Wyoming Traffic

in Coronavirus/News/Transportation

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyomingites are traveling significantly less since Gov. Mark Gordon urged residents to stay at home on March 25, according to state Transportation Department figures.

While a mobility tracking company has given the state poor marks for the ability of its residents to reduce their travel since the outbreak of the coronavirus, state figures show residents are paying attention to calls to stay home, said a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon.

“The governor believes most people are heeding the call to stay home,” Michael Pearlman said in an email. “Location data that has been reported nationally may paint an incomplete picture of Wyoming residents’ social distancing efforts, given our rural population and the long distances many residents must travel to purchase food and essentials.”

Beginning the week of March 18, the Wyoming Department of Transportation reported a marked decrease in traffic — compared to average data collected between 2017 and 2019 — on Interstate highways, non-interstate national highway systems (NHS) and non-NHS roads like Happy Jack Road west of Cheyenne.

“Overall, we’ve seen less traffic on all the roads we track,” said Martin Kidner, WYDOT’s state planning engineer. “The decline is led by small automobiles, but we’ve seen less semi-trucks, too.” 

Non-Interstate NHS roads, such as U.S. Highway 85, and Non-NHS lanes, which are typically service roads, experienced the biggest decreases in travel with a 35% reduction in the week of March 18 and a 30% reduction the week of March 25.

Interstates were close behind with a decrease of 27% the week of March 18, followed by a 32% decrease the week of March 25.

WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner said decreases in traffic are not uncommon this time of year as a result of bad weather and road closures, but Wyoming’s roads were open in late March, leading him to believe the decline was in response to the governor’s advisory.

“I don’t know how those national-level agencies make their calculations, but traffic is dramatically down,” Reiner said. “Intuitively, if you live out in the county, you’re going to put some miles on to get some groceries or visit the hospital. I’m statistically comfortable with the amount the traffic has dropped.”

On the other hand, Reiner said he hopes traffic does not decline much further, because his department is reliant on revenue from fuel taxes.

With spring storms on the horizon, Reiner said his staff has worked in rotating shifts from home to decrease the potential for infection or spread of COVID-19. The effort could prevent staffing shortages during blizzards.

“We are very adequately staffed,” Reiner said. “I have no worries.”

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18-Wheeler Plunges into North Platte River Near Ft. Steele, Wyoming

in News/Transportation
Reeling in the Big One

The painstakingly slow process of reeling in the water logged CRST tractor trailer begins Thursday afternoon — more than eight hours after the commercial truck entered the North Platte River. Professional tow truck operators from Pronghorn Towing and Recovery had to stop several times in order to clear debris and level the earth along the embankment. The slow and steady pace was necessary to ensure the trailer didn’t tip over in the strong current. Bigfoot 99 has the story this morning. Video by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99

Posted by Bigfoot99 – KTGA 99.3 FM Saratoga/Rawlins, WY on Friday, April 10, 2020

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Well, this is something — thankfully — you don’t see everyday.

A semi-truck driver on Thursday, who apparently fell asleep at the wheel, drove his truck into the North Platte River near Fort Steele.

The good news is that the driver and his passenger escaped the ordeal with only minor injuries. The bad news is, well, he drove his truck into the river.

According to a news release, the Wyoming Highway Patrol was dispatched to the area at 5:38 a.m. Thursday morning and spotted the vehicle in the river.

Carbon County Search and Rescue and the Wyoming Game and Fish also responded to the scene. 

Carbon County Search and Rescue used their boat to help retrieve the passengers from the truck.

The Wyoming Game and Fish and Carbon County Fire Department worked to contain any hazardous material leaking from the truck.           

The driver was cited for failing to maintain his lane of travel. 

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Renewing Your Driver’s License During a Pandemic

in Coronavirus/Transportation

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even in the best of times, no one really likes going to get their driver’s license renewed. It’s usually a slog, where you’re stuck in a waiting room surrounded by people who also don’t want to be here. Who wants to spend the precious downtime in their day waiting in line?

On Wednesday, I went on a journalistic (and personal) endeavor to find out what it is like getting a driver’s license renewed during the coronavirus pandemic.

For background: I turned 28 on March 11 (in case anyone wants to send really late birthday gifts). My driver’s license, which I got in Kansas in 2014, expired the same day. Like the responsible adult I am, I realized on my birthday that I couldn’t find my birth certificate, which I needed to get my license renewed.

After contacting the state of Kansas and paying the equivalent of a semi-nice dinner to have the darn piece of paper shipped to me, I finally got my birth certificate a week after my birthday.

On Wednesday morning, I gathered all of my documents and headed to the Wyoming Department of Transportation building in Cheyenne.

I scanned the parking lot, trying to figure out how many people were currently inside the building. I’d arrived early, just 15 minutes after the office opened, but there were about 12 cars in the lot, belonging to employees and the public. Since the Cheyenne location is limited to 10 people in the building at a time, I had a suspicious feeling that I’d be asked to wait outside.

I was quickly proven right. Within three minutes of walking into the building, I was given a license application to fill out, but I was asked to wait in my car until one of the employees called me to come back inside. Instead of walking the extra few yards to my car, I waited outside, enjoying the last few rays of sunlight I’ll likely see before I retire to my apartment until summer.

The wait thankfully wasn’t long, maybe five minutes at the most. I hadn’t even finished filling out the application.

I got back inside and was a bit surprised to see how quickly the other clients had been taken care of and ushered out of the building. I was the only person being helped. As I talked with the few staffers behind the counter, they told me how slow the days were now that people weren’t constantly in and out of the building.

The woman helping me said she’d only been working at the office for a month and that when she started, the workload was heavy and they were constantly busy. Now? Not so much.

There was a sign next to my seat, letting people know they may experience longer wait times since the department was short-staffed, but it didn’t seem that note applied to this situation.

The staff also said they’re sanitizing everything a person uses, including the seat they occupied while waiting, after they leave the building.

In total, the visit took 30 minutes from me arriving to when I walked out of the building to go home. This might have been one of the smoothest experiences I’ve ever had getting a driver’s license. I couldn’t believe it.

The moral? If you need to get something essential like this done, a pandemic may be the best time to do it.

Wyoming Residents Have 90-Day Window to Renew Expired Licenses

in Coronavirus/News/Transportation
Gov Gordon Budget

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday that he signed an executive order granting a reprieve for those with expired driver’s licenses.

There’s a catch, though: the window for expired licenses is from March 15 to June 1. Any person whose driver’s license expires in that period will have 90 days to get the license renewed.

The order also suspended non-commercial driving tests for the time being, but commercial driving tests will only be available by appointment.

The intent of the order is to protect the public and the state’s workforce by limiting interactions with state employees and at governmental offices

The Wyoming Department of Transportation will reassess the situation on April 20 to determine if testing can resume.

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