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Transportation

OOPS! Google Maps Is Wrongly Telling People I-80 Is Closed; Reroutes People To Colorado

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It’s a fan favorite scene from “The Office,” where the star of the TV show relies a little too much on GPS and ends up in a lake.

The same thing is happening here in Wyoming, but without the lake. Faulty GPS directions are directing travelers in southern Wyoming to Colorado.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is warning that Google Maps is wrongly telling people that Interstate 80 near Rock Springs is closed and then rerouting the travelers to Colorado, which would add add many hours on to their drive time.

WYDOT spokesman Doug McGee attributed the faulty information to a construction project on I80.

“There’s a large and lengthy highway construction project in that area, as much as 25 miles or so,” McGee told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “I think Google’s Artificial Intelligence looks at the motion on people’s cell phones and because of this, it reads as the road is closed, which it is not.”

McGee and fellow WYDOT spokeswoman Jordan Achs both recommended that anyone traveling across Wyoming check WyoRoad.Info, WYDOT’s website that has the most up-to-date road conditions across Wyoming.

In the meantime, WYDOT is trying to get its message out on social media channels.

“There are no closures at this time, but there is construction in the area, including head-to-head lanes and reduced speed limits. We are working with Google to try to resolve the issue,” the department posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

Making It Clear

McGee emphasized that drivers do not need to reroute into Colorado in order to get to Salt Lake City, adding unnecessary miles and fuel stops to the trip. Wyoming’s interstates, all of them, are still open.

Achs said no one has yet called to complain about being rerouted through Colorado, but the department has received several calls from people asking whether Interstate 80 is closed, which, again, it is not.

Too Bad

Disappointingly, neither McGee nor Achs have received reports of anyone driving into a lake or on a sidewalk because their GPS told them that was the correct route.

While Google Maps and other GPS services usually are reliable, there have been some entertaining instances of drivers relying on computers more than their own eyes.

Like the man who drove on a stairwell in New York City after his GPS took him on a wrong turn.

Or the Japanese tourists in Australia whose GPS told them they could drive to an island in the Pacific Ocean through nine miles of water.

Or even the women visiting Washington who made a U-turn into a lake.

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Jackson Hole Airport Reopens With New Eco-Friendly $44 Million Runway

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The busiest international airport in the state is back in business.

After a 78-day closure, the Jackson Hole Airport – with its new, eco-friendly, $44 million runway – resumed service Tuesday.

And the first flight, an American Airlines jet, received a hero’s welcome complete with water cannons christening its arrival.

Meanwhile the staff at the airport picked up pretty much where they left off, according to Kevin Dunnigan, the airport’s communications assistant.

“It was kind of like a normal Tuesday, in terms of enplanements and passengers coming through,” Dunnigan told Cowboy State Daily. “But we’re kind of shifting gears now as a staff, from reopening to getting ready for the July Fourth holiday.”

The midsummer celebration is typically one of the busier travel times of the year for the only airport in the country located in a national park (the airport merged with Grand Teton National Park in 1950). Because of the popularity of Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the summer, air traffic in Jackson peaks in the summer.

“This weekend, and then into July Fourth, we’ll see those numbers tick up a little bit,” Dunnigan said.



The Jackson Hole Airport hosts four major airlines year-round – Alaska, American, Delta and United – and in the summer months, Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country Airlines offer direct flights between Jackson and Denver.

So the closure of the airport for major renovations did cause a bit of a dent in the local economy, according to Dunnigan.

“It definitely had an impact, but we’ve seen, just anecdotally, that the tourists are still coming,” he said, pointing out that the majority of visitors coming to Jackson choose to drive rather than fly.

For those who do arrive by plane (and that’s a significant number – in 2019, the airport saw around 455,000 passengers), their aircraft will be landing on a state-of-the-art runway made by recycling the material that was torn up from the previous runway.

Airport communications Director Meg Jenkins told Cowboy State Daily earlier this year that by milling the old runway, it would save thousands of dollars in materials and fuel.

“That part is estimated to keep about 8,500 trucks off our local roadways, and save 187,000 gallons of fuel,” Jenkins said.

Additionally, an eco-friendly drainage system was built into the project, filtering runoff from the tarmac through layers of rock and soil.

“This runway, to my knowledge, will be the most environmentally respectful runway with those drain systems and filtration of any runway that I’m aware of in the United States,” said Jim Elwood, Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Airport.

And although the major renovations are complete, Dunnigan said there’s more work to be done.

“During the closure, we started first demolishing and now remodeling the restaurant that we have on site,” he said. “We’re looking at having that completed by November of this year.”

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Due To Pilot Shortage, SkyWest To Remove Seats To Allow Pilots With Lower-Level Certifications

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

SkyWest, like all airlines in the United States right now, is in the midst of a pilot shortage. 

But the regional airline that services most of the airports in Wyoming has come up with a unique idea to stretch their resources.

SkyWest, under a new subsidiary called “SkyWest Charter,” has made an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation to modify a number of Canadair jets to only hold 30 passengers, thereby allowing pilots with lower-level certifications to operate the aircraft as a “public charter.”

“Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport here in Rock Springs was listed in (SkyWest’s) DOT application for a Part 135 charter certificate that would allow them to fly a 30-seat CRJ 200,” said Devon Brubaker, Director for the airport. “So it’s the same planes they fly today, but with 30 seats instead of 50 seats.”

The Part 135 rules are more relaxed than the Part 121 rules that all scheduled air carriers operate under. The difference is that pilots operating aircraft under Part 135 do not need to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, which requires them to have logged at least 1,500 flight hours. 

A representative for SkyWest told Cowboy State Daily that the company’s standards have not gone down — rather, the charter service would simply provide additional regulatory flexibility.

“It is our full intent to hold this new entity to the same high standards of safety, reliability, and service that the SkyWest name has come to represent,” SkyWest’s spokesperson said in a statement.

For Rock Springs’ regional airport, the new flexibility is good news.

“To the best of our knowledge at this time, it looks like it would be used to supplement our service as an opportunity to get us back to where we were pre-pandemic, with at least two daily flights and maybe more,” Brubaker told Cowboy State Daily. 

He said that between 2016 and 2019, boardings at Sweetwater County’s airport increased 57% – then came COVID-19.

“Obviously the pandemic decimated air travel across the country,” Brubaker said. “We started to get back to our 2019 numbers in November, December of 2021. And then the pilot shortage reared its ugly head the last week of December, early January.”

Brubaker said that in order to maintain consistency and reduce the possibility of canceled flights due to a shortage of pilots, all the airlines started to reduce the number of available flights. In Rock Springs, that meant that SkyWest dropped down to one flight a day, which Brubaker said is currently running at about 86% capacity.

“In our industry, and 86% load factor might as well be full,” he said. “That basically means that on peak travel days, you’re not going to find seats unless you book early.”

“We see travel demand far outpacing what we saw in 2019,” Brubaker continued. “We just don’t have the capacity.”

While SkyWest’s charter service option may be good news for Rock Springs, on the other side of the state it could be a detriment.

“We used to have three flights a day, every day,” said Todd Chatfield, director of the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport in Gillette. “We’re down to two flights a day, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when we’re down to one plane a day.”

Chatfield told Cowboy State Daily that, like Rock Springs, flights in Gillette are filling up at around an 85% load factor, with planes that have 50 seats.

“If we went back to three flights a day with the 30 passenger seats, that would still be a loss of 10 seats (per day),” Chatfield said.

However, he said that there is a possibility that SkyWest could continue providing 50-seat planes and bring in the smaller capacity aircraft at busier times.

“I did sign a public comment deal, and I did say that we were in favor of this, but that’s when I thought we would just keep the extra planes,” Chatfield said. “They wouldn’t take my 50-passenger planes away and bring in 30.”

Chatfield acknowledged that SkyWest’s leaders are trying to address the pilot shortage in any way they can.

“That’s really encouraging that they’re trying to find different ways to serve Wyoming,” he said. “But if they start taking my 50 seats and bringing in 30, and they don’t bring (what we get) in the same amount of planes I get now, that’s gonna hurt me.”

“We’ve been assured by SkyWest airlines that their commitment is to improving our service, not hurting our service here in Sweetwater County, and around the state as well,” Brubaker said.

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Beartooth Highway Finally Reopens After 12 Days; 10-Foot Snow Drifts Cleared

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been 12 long days, but Beartooth Highway has opened up — again.

The most “beautiful highway in America,” as it’s been called, links the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, Montana.

Nearly two weeks ago, it opened up for the season. But it was only a cameo appearance.

Twenty four hours later it was closed again.

Winter came back. Big time.

Some sections of the highway had more than 10 feet of snow. Couple that with avalanches on the Montana side of the highway and a 12-day closure doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. 



Now, however, optimism is flowing.

“Now that temperatures are warming up, it should stay open for the rest of the summer,” said Cody Beers, a Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman.

No guarantees though as it has snowed every month out of the year on the highway.

“These types of storms aren’t unusual at all,” Beers said, noting that storms over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends are somewhat expected.

Despite the unpredictable weather, it’s a drive not to be missed, Beers said.

“It’s one of the most scenic views on the planet,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s worth the drive. If you’ve never driven it, you should.”

Beers said a highway like Beartooth could never be built today but back in the 1930s there was a tremendous push to open up a road to Yellowstone from Montana.  

“It was a herculean effort,” he said. “People look forward to it. It’s one of the greatest drives in our country.”

Twenty two miles of Beartooth Highway are located in Wyoming. But the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the road. That’s still a Yellowstone responsibility.

Beers said it’s what’s known as an “orphan road” — a road that exists within a state but another entity maintains it.

Beers mentioned that there are some ongoing closures, however. From Monday through Thursday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., the road is closed for construction. There are no closures Friday through Sunday.

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WYDOT To Politicians: Don’t Put Your Campaign Signs In Illegal Places

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20156

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By Ellen Fike and Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

As the candidate filing period wraps up Friday for Wyoming’s primary election in August, the Wyoming Department of Transportation is reminding candidates to avoid placing their signs on highways, roads, and public rights-of-way.

Although it could be tempting to place a political sign on the median or the shoulder of Interstate 80 or some other busy roadway for maximum exposure, it’s not a good idea and, more importantly, it’s against the law, the department said.

Signs can pose a serious safety issue, not to mention creating ill will toward candidates who blatantly ignore the law in the pursuit of elected office.

But it’s not just campaigns that are the problem, WYDOT spokesman Doug McGee said. People who advertise for garage sales and real estate are guilty too.

Even declarations of love, no matter how sincere, cannot be placed on a sign and put in a public right-of-way.

“It’s a safety hazard, mainly,” McGee told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “The signs we put in the rights-of-way are for directional and informational purposes and are designed to be as safe as possible in the event of a crash, whether it falls forward or goes over it.”

The Lamont Incident

Jonathan Downing, a veteran of many Wyoming campaigns, recalled a scuffle between a candidate he was working for and the Wyoming Department of Transportation over a road sign back in 1994.

WYDOT had announced it was taking down a population sign for the town of Lamont, north of Rawlins, as it was no longer an incorporated community. 

A bed and breakfast owner who lived in the community of three said the road sign was a point of pride and passersby stopped to take a photo next to it and some ended up staying at her business.

Rob Wallace, a candidate for U.S. House in 1994, announced he was going to re-install the road sign as its removal was an example of government overreach.

Downing said Wallace was told if he re-installed the sign he would be arrested.

The campaign jumped on it.

“We thought it would be a great news story if Rob was arrested putting up a new road sign so we went ahead with the strategy,” Downing said.

He said ultimately the planned was foiled, however, as the old sign was never removed by WYDOT.

“I think Rob was relieved, in retrospect, that he wasn’t arrested,” Downing said. “We thought it would be hilarious but, then again, we weren’t the ones who would have been thrown into the hoosegow.”

The campaign ended up making commercials out of the incident anyway, Downing said, which were viewed positively by voters.

“The campaign ads were awesome,” he said. “I still have them on VHS along with some vintage episodes of Beverly Hills 90210.”

Back To The Future

McGee and fellow WYDOT spokeswoman Jordan Achs would not share the names of the biggest campaign culprits so far in 2022 when it came to placing election signs in appropriate places. But both agreed it is common to see signs in the wrong places all over the state during an election season.

If a sign is found to be in an inappropriate place, WYDOT workers will remove it and contact the person on the sign, telling them to come get their sign and take it somewhere else.

“We’re trying to work with them to get it in a better location where they can still show their support, just without it being in the right of way,” Achs said.

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WYDOT Cancels Prestige License Plates Because of Aluminum Shortage

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s a sad day for drivers who want to add some bling to their license plates. Because of a national aluminum shortage, the availability of new prestige plates in Wyoming has been paused.

A prestige plate is one that is personalized to show off one’s profession, a hobby, a name or whatever is preferred. In the popular TV shows “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” for example, attorney Saul Goodman had a license plate noting his profession: LWYRUP (Lawyer Up).

But it’s all on hold in Wyoming.  Because of the shortage, plates are just going to be produced in a sequential order. No specialization allowed.

It’s not because it takes more aluminum to create personalized plates. Rather, it’s because a personalized plate is a luxury whereas a regular license plate is a necessity. It’s a matter of prioritization said a Wyoming Department of Transportation official.

“The primary function of a license plate is really for vehicle identification,” WYDOT Support Services Administrator Taylor Rossetti told Cowboy State Daily.

“The idea of a prestige plate is really a ‘nice to have’ type of thing rather than a ‘need to have,’” Rossetti said.  “We need to make sure folks who need to have a license plate get the license plate they need.”

It’s not going to have a big effect on most drivers, Rossetti said.

That’s because the suspension would only apply to requests for new personalized plates. Orders to renew personalized plates won’t be affected because license plates are renewed every eight years — and Wyoming is in the middle of that cycle right now.

So, like everyone else, people who already have personalized plates would just receive a sticky tab with the year on it which is placed on the license plate to show it has been renewed.

Rossetti thinks the suspension will be short-lived and could be canceled as soon as July.

So far no one has reached out to complain, he said.

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WYDOT Will Request Exemptions to Federal Electric Vehicle Charging Program

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

The future of electric vehicles is starting to take shape in Wyoming.

With $24 million available in federal funding through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, Wyoming is making plans for the construction of a network of electric charging stations in the near future, a state official said Wednesday.

During a meeting with the Legislature’s Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs Committee meeting, Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, gave an update on the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle draft strategy, which heavily incorporates the NEVI program. The update was similar to that given at town halls held across Wyoming in April to collect input on the proposed charging network.

The NEVI program mandates that a charging station be built every 50 miles along Wyoming’s interstate highways, which would mean, Reiner said, nearly 50 stations in Wyoming. 

Reiner mentioned a stretch on Interstate 90 between Gillette and Buffalo that he thought would not merit a station, and added there are a number of 50-mile stretches on the state’s interstates that lack gas stations.

Due to the inefficiency of building stations on those particularly empty stretches of Wyoming highways that don’t receive high traffic, Reiner said the state will appeal for an exemption from this requirement. 

To compensate, Reiner said he will ask that more stations be placed in high tourist areas surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, outside Devils Tower National Monument and around other high-traffic areas in eastern Wyoming.

The cost effectiveness of running an electric car station is also a major consideration for WYDOT, Reiner said.

Reiner said studies show the average charging station in Wyoming will receive 0.3 visits per day, far below the 36 visits per day needed for such stations to turn a profit.

“That’s a pretty austere requirement we hope to get some relief from,” Reiner said.

He said a typical charging station runs the provider about $10,000 per month in costs. He said four vehicles charging simultaneously would involve the same amount of energy used to power the 11-building WYDOT facility in Cheyenne.

Wyoming Gone Green?

Statistics provided by the Wyoming Department of Transportation show the state is hardly a bastion for electric vehicles at this time, with 477 vehicles registered statewide, the overwhelming majority in Teton and Laramie counties.

A full charge for most electrical vehicles using advanced charging technology now takes about 20 to 25 minutes, Reiner said, while an 80% charge can usually be achieved in 10 to 15 minutes. He said there are technologies on the way that will reduce these charging times in the future.

Reiner said attracting tourists will be one of the top benefits of the installation.

Each station will cost $500,000 to install. Federal funds will cover 80% of the cost while local monies will have to be used for the rest. 

Wyoming law forbids the state from spending money on electric vehicle infrastructure, so these funds will have to come from local counties, municipalities and private donors. 

The committee made no comments after the 30-minute presentation, but members did press Reiner to make sure the state isn’t the footing the bill for any of these projects.

Reiner did admit WYDOT will have to pay around $1,000 for a consultant on the program.

The NEVI is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by promoting the use of electric vehicles, however, Reiner said cutting emissions in Wyoming is a challenge because the state has little in the way of mass transit.

In addition, the state’s low population keeps its emissions low — in 2019, Wyoming produced the 17th least emissions in the U.S. at 49.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a 7.4% decline from the year before, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration information.

If the state moves ahead with the recharging station project, there will be other competitive grants the state cab apply for to help finance the stations, Reiner said.

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Wind River Canyon Cleanup & Construction To Cause Significant Delays

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The trip between Shoshoni and Thermopolis could take an extra hour in the next two to four weeks due to last weekend’s Wind River Canyon rock slide and the start of a road project in the area.

Cody Beers, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said the rock slide last week allowed the department to start work early on a slide stabilization project near Shoshoni, but added the combined projects, along with a paving project near Shoshoni could add 30 to 45 minutes to a trip in the canyon.

“We’ve had to mobilize in our subcontractor because of the rock slide that happened Saturday night, and the relative instability of the area above the road,” he said. 

Beers noted that it took two loaders four hours on Saturday night just to make the roadway passable due to the massive amount of debris that fell around 7 p.m., so several days will be required for a full cleanup of the area.

“So that’s going to probably take a week, and it’s going to add to the cost of that slide stabilization project through Wind River Canyon,” he said. “But it’s great that we’ve already got a contractor there and we can just do a change order and add to their scope of work.”

Put On Climbing Gear

Oftedal Construction of Casper is the primary contractor overseeing a project that will remove other loose rock from the side of the canyon to mitigate further slides that might impact traffic. Its subcontractor Midwest Rockfall, Inc. began work Tuesday, April 26, to scale smaller pieces of rock from the canyon wall which otherwise might fall onto traffic lanes. 

“They will put climbing gear on and then go right up on the rocks and push loose rocks off,” Beers said. “They’ve got experienced climbers that go up there with a pole and they try to move every loose rock off.”

Some of the originally planned rockfall mitigation work includes installing rock bolts, repairing existing rock fence and installation of new rock mesh.

But Beers said the subcontractor’s work will now include emergency work at the rock slide which closed the highway Saturday evening. 

“There’s several really big pieces of rock that are now loose after what happened Saturday,” he pointed out. “And so we’re going to move all that rock that fell Saturday out of there first so that we can drop those big rocks off the edge of the asphalt – because if we dropped those big rocks on the asphalt, then we’re going to have to rebuild the roadway in those areas.” 

Specialists Needed

Beers pointed out that contractors are hired for this specific scope of work because the Wyoming Department of Transportation doesn’t have the equipment or the expertise to handle a project of this type.

“If it’s an occasional rock, or some smaller rocks that come down, we are able to move those off the road either with one of our loaders or a snowplow,” Beers said. “But when we’re talking the breadth of rockfall that happened, and then the aftermath of the rock slide and what’s still up on the hill that’s now loose and needs to come off, that’s where we have to enlist the experts.”

At the same time, southeast of Wind River Canyon, asphalt paving is scheduled to begin this week on a little over 8 miles of U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshoni and the Wind River Canyon.

“So if you hit it the wrong time, you’re going to end up with stop delays of 40 minutes plus,” Beers said. “In some instances it could add an hour to your drive between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.”

“They’re going to be working as fast as the weather will allow them to work,” he added.  

Safer Experience

In the end, though, Beers pointed out that the results of the work will mean a safer traveling experience through the Wind River Canyon.

“We’ve had trooper vehicles get hit by rocks, or they were blocking rock slides in there,” he said. “We’ve had our own engineers in there that had to run out of the way of rock slides. And so we did these scaling projects to hopefully get ahead of the curve and make the whole corridor more safe.”

Beers predicted that the delays caused by the two projects between Shoshoni and Thermopolis will last for a few weeks.

“It’s probably going to be like this for probably two to four weeks depending on the weather, and how quickly the contractor is able to get in there and do the work.”

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Powell Students Clear Wind River Canyon Rock Slide; WYDOT Not Thrilled

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A group of Powell students helped clear debris from a rock slide along the narrow canyon highway between Shoshoni and Thermopolis that brought traffic to a standstill for four hours on Saturday.

However, some are questioning the wisdom of the action given the instability of the mountainsides above the highway.

“You know, that was totally on their own, and we would not recommend that,” said Cody Beers, a public information specialist for the Wyoming Department of Trasportation. “Now, I’m glad it all went well, and I’m glad they were able to get through there safely. But at that point, it was a fairly volatile situation. There could have been more rocks that could have come down.” 



According to reports, the rock slide just north of the three tunnels over U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshone and Thermopolis brought traffic on the highway to a halt. Photos taken by travelers showed a large amount of debris spread across both lanes of traffic.

Beers told Cowboy State Daily that the department received the initial call about the rock slide at about 7 p.m. Loaders were sent from both sides of the slide and had the road open again by about 11:15 p.m.

“And we ended up with five people out there Saturday night, and we got it cleaned out,” he said.

Included among the vehicles stopped on the road was a bus carrying members of Powell’s soccer team home after a meet.

“Standing O”

Witnesses said students got out of the bus and began moving some of the rocks to allow some traffic to pass.

Michele Hampton said she was traveling with her daughter, a member of the Powell girls varsity soccer team, a few vehicles behind the bus from Powell and one from Worland when they came upon the slide.

“We went through the three tunnels,” said Hampton. “And I saw the Powell Panthers, they were there pulling the rocks up, and I got there at the tail end of that.”

Hampton posted words of praise and a photo of the Worland bus working its way through the path cleared by the Powell students on social media Saturday.

“I just want to give a standing ‘O’ to the Powell Panther Soccer boys major rock slide coming through Wind River Canyon,” she wrote. “These boys pulled boulders off the highway so cars could get through! All people and kids are safe.”



Comments responding to Hampton’s post regarding the boys’ actions were largely positive, with several, such as Chris Brewer, also a parent to one of the students, joining Hampton in expressing pride in the young people for helping others.

“I’m also glad our young men were able to assist on their own accord,” she wrote. “No one forced them to do anything. Most other men wouldn’t have hesitated to jump in. They make a great team. Glad they got to move through the canyon vs. sitting ducks in the canyon for hours or the drive around route which would have been treacherous as well.” 

“Extremely Unsafe”

Others, while praising the students, said their actions might have been ill-advised.

“I do think that it was a highly commendable thought to help out the way that our Powell students did in regards to the slide,” said Chad Eagleton, also the parent of a Powell student. “However, they’re at a school function and the school is 100% responsible for their safety and how many were 18 and over? There was nobody qualified to say that scene was safe. It was extremely unsafe.”

Eagleton said the adults accompanying the athletes should have prevented them from putting themselves in harm’s way.

“I really do love that the kids’ first thought was to help,” Eagleton said, “but they do not have agency to make those decisions and neither does the school.”

Beers said when confronted with a rock slide, the best thing to do is leave the debris alone, since the mountainside that spawned the slide can still be unstable.

“The best bet when you encounter a rockslide is to not move rocks out of the way because there may be another event coming, you know, we just don’t know the stability of a canyon wall at that point,” he said. 

The Wind River Canyon is the only option for travelers to get from the north-central part of the state to get to the southern half, so when the canyon closes due to winter weather or rock slides, it causes a major snag.

“I’ve heard the old-timers say this for years – we’re only really one bad rock slide away from an extended closure of Wind River Canyon,” Beers said.

Thankful No One Was Hurt

Beers said continued rock slides in the future are guaranteed.

“Man cut his way through that canyon and created a highway,” he said. “And so we disrupted whatever natural things were there, and so the rocks are going to come down – I mean, it’s basic gravity. 

“Because when the ground freezes, it contracts, and when it thaws it expands, and that causes movement of rocks and dirt, and then you get weather and you have the possibility of having either a rock slide or mudslide,” he added. 

And because of the geography and geology of the canyon, Beers said the issues there will always exist.

“I don’t think that there’s enough money or enough manpower or enough engineering to keep us from ever having a problem in Wind River Canyon,” Beers said. “It’s about 10 miles of road through there that can be very beautiful and breathtaking, and very treacherous and dangerous. It looks peaceful in there, but it’s anything but peaceful.”

Because rock slides happen randomly, Beers urged travelers to proceed with caution through Wind River Canyon, and be aware that what happened Saturday could happen again at any time.

Beers said he as also thankful none of the students were hurt.

“I’m just thankful that nothing happened while they were there,” he said. “But you know, as a parent, that’s the last thing I’d want my son doing, is cleaning rocks off a road at the bottom of where a rock slide just happened.” 

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Experts Question ‘Green’ Claims For Electric Vehicles

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Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
19129

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By Scott McClallen, The Center Square

Some experts this Earth Day are questioning whether electric vehicles (EV) are actually as environmentally friendly as initially claimed by automakers and government officials.

In the words of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s automakers are speeding to an “all-electric future,” despite looming supply chain issues, chip shortages, and a possible battery shortage.

Last week, Rivian Automotive CEO RJ Scaringe warned reporters of a potentially looming shortage of raw materials essential to manufacturing EV batteries, which he added could be a more significant problem than the current computer-chip shortage.

“Put very simply, all the world’s cell production combined represents well under 10% of what we will need in 10 years,” Scaringe said last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Meaning, 90% to 95% of the supply chain does not exist,” he added.

Widespread EV adoption would require rare earth minerals, including cobalt, lithium, and nickel, which are in short supply in the United States. Importing the minerals, moreover, sparks ethical questions as rare earth minerals extraction overseas often involves child slave labor and can damage the environment.

The world’s top lithium producers are South America, where Argentina and Chile provide 93% of U.S. lithium. Amnesty International reports thousands of child laborers mine cobalt for lithium batteries. Additionally, a Guardian report noted that children as young as six work in the mines.

While they don’t guzzle gas, a single Tesla requires seven kilograms of lithium for its battery pack, which requires an energy-intensive extraction from the brine of salt flats that can damage the environment and cause water shortages, such as in Chile’s Atacama and Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto regions, Ronald J. Deibert explains in his book “Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for a Civil Society.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces most of the world’s cobalt, child slaves often work in the mines. 

While there are only 456 registered electric vehicles in Wyoming, Michigan has 13,545 EVs. That sounds like a big difference but Michigan also has 5.8 million gas vehicles. Yet, the Great Lakes State has dumped more than $1 billion into EV subsidies.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Michiganders should consider the “full environmental impact” of EVs.

“Electric vehicles are promoted as the more environmentally friendly choice, because the ratings often only consider CO2 emissions from the tailpipe,” Hayes said in a statement.

“But EVs have their share of CO2 embedded in their manufacturing processes and they use six times more mineral than conventional vehicles – many of which have to be mined, processed and then imported from developing nations,” he said.

“EVs will also put tremendous stresses on our increasingly fragile and weather-dependent electric grid. It’s time for government to stop caving to green special interests and honestly inform consumers about the full environmental impact of electric vehicles.”

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Snow Storm Leads to Three Semi Rollovers, Two Jackknifed Semis In Campbell County

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

One semi-trucker rollover a shift is enough to keep firefighters busy, let alone five in one day.

Wind gusts, blowing snow, cold temperatures and icy road conditions are being partly to blame for the three rollovers and two jackknifed semi-trucks on 1-90 and other roadways in Campbell County, with three in less than two hours between 10 a.m. and noon.

Nobody was seriously injured in any of the crashes.

It was the most that Bryan Borgialli, Battalion Chief for the Campbell County Fire Department, had ever been on in one day.

“The roads were nothing but a sheet of ice,” Borgialli  told Cowboy State Daily Thursday. “Probably some of the worst roads we’ve ever been on.”

He almost got hit on one of the calls when a car came speeding over the hill and braked too abruptly when they saw the flashing lights. He’s been hit once already in the same conditions, he said, when he first joined the force 19 years ago. 

“I didn’t need to do that again,” he said.

The icy road conditions also slowed them down as well to speeds between 40 to 50 mph as they attempted to attend to the accidents.

Two of the wrecks occurred on 1-90 near Gillette while the others were on South Highway 59 and Highway 50, the latter of which forced the roadway closed for several hours to clear one semi that had jackknifed around noon.

He’s not a crash expert, he said, but thought that the accidents had more to do with traveling at low speeds and being tipped over.

“The roads were treacherous but pretty deceiving,” he said, especially given last week’s temperate weather that he thinks tends to make people more complacent this time of year.

That and overestimating the road conditions.

“People should make the decision if they really need to travel or not,” he said. And if so, he urged drivers to reduce their speed and be on the lookout for emergency vehicles.

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More Than One-Third Of Wyoming’s Electric Vehicles In Teton County; Three Counties Have Zero

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than one-third of the electric cars in Wyoming are registered in Teton County, according to state figures.

Figures from the Wyoming Department of Transportation show that of the 456 electric cars registered in Wyoming, 161, 35.3%, are in Teton County.

The high number of the electric vehicles in Teton County is the result of several factors, including the commitment of the county’s residents to protecting the environment, said Phil Cameron, executive director for Energy Conservation Works of Jackson Hole, a group that promotes alternative energy sources in the region.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, a vehicle is a personal choice,” he said. “So there’s some alignment of values with the benefits personally and environmentally of electric vehicles.”

The figures on electric vehicle ownership in Wyoming were prepared by WYDOT in advance of hearings on its plans to encourage the creation of a network of electric vehicle charging stations along the state’s interstate highways.

According to the the figures, Laramie County has the second-highest number of EVs in the state at 106, about 23.7%. That means Teton and Laramie counties have more than half of the state’s electric vehicles at 266.

Albany County placed third for electric vehicle ownership at 42, followed by Natrona County at 34 and Sweetwater County at 29. Only three counties, Big Horn, Crook and Niobrara, have no electric vehicles.

Cameron’s organization works to promote alternative fuel uses throughout the region, including the use of electric vehicles. It has been involved with efforts to encourage the construction of electric vehicle charging stations throughout Teton County, which he said also figured into the popularity of EVs.

“In order to support those choices, there’s been a lot of groundwork that has been laid by local organizations,” he said. “We broke the ‘chicken and the egg’ cycle by providing public charging at a higher (charging speed) than wold be available at home.”

Since Jackson, Teton County and private businesses began setting up charging stations, Cameron said, visitors from outside the area have been using them more often.

“We can really track the use of those public stations,” he said. “We have several hundred unique users. That tells us it’s not just local users, it’s people who are starting to access national parks (with electric vehicles).”

He added that rising gasoline costs have also boosted the interest in electric cars, given the fact that a 100-mile trip in an electric car might cost $1.75, while the same trip in a gasoline-powered vehicle might cost $20.

“We see adoption rates intersecting with the fuel rates in a very causal relationship,” he said. “As we get to $5 (per gallon) petroleum costs, we see a huge uptick in the adoption of alternatives.”

The draw for the buyer of electric vehicles in Laramie County is slightly different than for those in Teton County, said Kevin Harris, general manager for Ken Garff Cheyenne, which includes Ford, Toyota and Hyundai dealerships.

“What I see is customers who are interested in the latest and greatest technologies,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the green message. There’s so much amazing technology.”

Harris said most of the electric car buyers in Laramie County seem to be using EVs as second cars rather than primary sources of transportation.

“It might be different if we lived in a metro area where people travel and live within a 20- or 30-mile radius,” he said.

He added demand for the fully electric vehicles is growing, as evidenced by 100 reservations made by people wishing to buy Ford’s F-150 “Lightning” pickup truck, a vehicle that is not yet available.

He added that while the construction of a network of charging stations will help ease “range anxiety” that might discourage some from buying the vehicles, the driving force for sales in the future will be fact that younger drivers will simply be more comfortable with the technology.

“I think we’ve got another generation of drivers coming up who are starting to drive these vehicles and this is not new technology to them,” he said.

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Wyoming Working To Develop Network Of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

State officials are working on a plan to use federal money to encourage private companies to build a network of high-speed electric vehicle recharging stations along the state’s interstate highways.

Over the next two weeks, the Wyoming Department of Transportation will collect public input during a series of public meetings on its “Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy,” which lays out a plan to use about $25 million in federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act money to provide incentives for private companies to build the stations.

Although Wyoming has one of the lowest ownership rates for electric vehicles in the nation, it needs to build up its infrastructure for the vehicles to provide for the needs of those traveling to or through the state, said Luke Reiner, director of WYDOT.

“The focus is on the electric vehicles being purchased by people around the nation who we know want to come to Wyoming as tourists,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We want to make sure the infrastructure exists to get them from Point A to Point B.”

According to a draft study prepared on the plan, there are 456 registered electric cars and light trucks in Wyoming, along with 11 electric motorcycles or multi-purpose vehicles in the state. That amounts to less than one-tenth of 1% of the more than 653,000 non-commercial vehicles in the state.

Of the electric cars in the state, 360 are Teslas, which have a specialized charging network that cannot be used by other brands of vehicles. Other than Tesla charging stations, Wyoming has only one charging station for cars in Jackson and one for motorcycles in Cheyenne.

“I believe we have the fewest of any state,” Reiner said.

The low numbers contribute to challenges Wyoming faces in making sure it can convince companies to build and maintain charging stations along the interstates, according to the draft version of the department’s report.

“These challenges will make it difficult for any business to develop, install, operate and maintain (zero emission vehicle) infrastructures during this nascent time when the technology does not enjoy widespread use,” it said.

Other possible obstacles include power and internet needs that will have to be met for the charging stations.

The plan calls for the state, using the federal money, to coordinate and encourage the construction and operation of the stations, which federal rules require to be built at 50-mile intervals along Interstates 80, 25 and 90 at locations other than rest stops. 

“We’re not building or owning the stations,” said DOT spokesman Doug McGee. “It will be just like (gas stations), they will be built and serviced by private companies.”

Once built, the owners will charge a fee for the use of the stations, much like gas at a service station.

Standard recharging systems, such as those running off of a home’s electrical systems, can take up to eight hours to recharge an electric vehicle’s batteries.

But when the department issues requests for proposals from companies interested in building the stations along the interstate highways, it will ask for high-speed charging stations, which use from 50 kilowatts to 350 kilowatts in the process to charge a car in less than one hour, Reiner said.

“As we talk about electrifying the roads, we’ve got to start talking the fast chargers,” he said. “We want the experience of charging your car to emulate what it takes to put gas or diesel into our cars.”

Ideally, Reiner said he would like to see stations offer four charging outlets, two at 350 kilowatts and two at 150 kilowatts.

Despite some of the difficulties in building the stations, such as providing internet service and power to the sites, Reiner said he expected companies to step up with proposals.

“The American entrepreneur has historically carried the day and I suspect that will be the case here,” he said. “We know people will want to come here and I think my sense is that the industry will rise to the challenge.”

After the public meetings on the plan, which are to be held April 4 through 12 at nine communities, the department will submit its plan for approval to federal officials in June or July, Reiner said. He added he hopes the department can issue requests for proposals by this fall and that construction on the stations might begin in 2023 or 2024.

“There is currently a requirement that says all the devices have to be built in America,” he said. “There’s only one company (producing charging stations). It’s going to be a supply chain issue.”

The public meetings will be held in Cheyenne on April 4, Casper and Cody on April 5, Riverton on April 6, Jackson and Rock Springs on April 7, Rawlins on April 8, Gillette on April 11 and Sheridan on April 12.

For a full listing of the meetings, visit: https://www.dot.state.wy.us/news/wydot-announces-strategy-for-national-electric-vehicle-infrastructure

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State Sen. Says 15 Cent Fuel Tax Increase Needed To Fix Roads, Crumbling Bridges

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A bill proposing a 15-cent per gallon increase in gas taxes over the next three years would help the state meet its basic highway maintenance needs, according to one of its sponsors.

House Bill 14, if approved by the Legislature, would raise Wyoming’s fuel taxes for the first time since 2013.

The state’s fuel tax is currently 24 cents per gallon and it would increase to 39 cents per gallon by 2025 under the bill, which is being sponsored by the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee.

The increase would raise an additional $67.4 million per year by 2025.

The bill is awaiting introduction in Wyoming’s House. Should it not be introduced by Friday, it will be dead for this session.

The state’s current tax on gas pumped within Wyoming’s borders is not even close to raising the amount necessary to adequately address maintenance needs, said Sen. Bill Landen, co-chair of the Transportation Committee.

“You know, my dad’s generation, when he pulled up to the pump in Wyoming in 1969, he paid 25 cents for a gallon of gas – and out of that, seven cents went back to the highways,” Landen recalled. “I think that’s somewhere around 28% to 30%. So today, let’s just say we’re paying $3 for a gallon of gas — it would be just 24 cents in taxes that go back to maintain those roads.” 

As a generation, Landen pointed out that today’s residents are not putting money into the state’s coffers proportionate to what’s needed to maintain the state’s highway infrastructure.

“Our bridges are showing it, and if you talk with our contractors in our communities out there, they will tell you that the reckoning is coming,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of deterioration there. We’ve had sinkholes that have begun to appear, and the caution I get from some of our contractors in Casper, for example, is that we’re only going to see more.” 

An increase in the fuel tax would help to alleviate the funding deficit that the state’s highway department is currently facing. 

A similar bill was proposed in 2021 and at the time, WYDOT Public Affairs Manager Doug McGee told Cowboy State Daily that the department was facing a shortfall of about $354 million in unfunded needs per year. 

“Certainly, this fuel tax is very much needed to maintain our roads and bridges – our transportation system – to the level that Wyoming citizens expect,” McGee said at the time.

However, HB14 may not have the support necessary to even be introduced this session.

“You know, some may or may not support a gas tax when it’s all said and done – if that bill were to move forward at 5 cents per year, I’m not sure I would,” said Landen. “But it is at least a consideration.”

That 5 cents per year is also concerning to the Wyoming Trucker’s Association. 

Sheila Foertsch, the association’s managing director, said that while the group supports an increase in the fuel tax, the amount of the proposed increase would be a hardship.

“We are supportive of a fuel tax increase,” she said. “And the last time, in 2013, when the fuel tax was increased 10%, we were right there – because we do feel that funding is necessary for our highway systems. That’s where the trucking industry’s jobs happen, on the highways, and we need safe, efficient highways in this state.”

WYDOT Director Luke Reiner has noted that for every dollar not spent on preventative maintenance on roadways, $4 to $8 will be required for complete highway reconstruction down the road.

“We need to make sure that (the highways) are properly maintained and supported, and we certainly believe that a fuel tax makes the most sense at this point for funding the highway system,” Foertsch said. However, she added the association does not support the currently proposed 15 cent increase, even though it’s intended to be phased in over a three year period. “Our current position is a six cent increase phased in over three years.” 

However, Foertsch noted that while a fuel tax increase might solve a financial problem in the near future, it might not be the right answer down the road.

“There is a growing concern that fuel taxes are not sustainable, because of electric vehicles, and other types of fuel vehicles that are coming,” she said. “And we’re going to see more of them all the time, but for the short term, fuel taxes make the most sense. They’re easy to collect. There’s not another bureaucracy that needs to be dealt with, and they’re fairly inexpensive to collect. So that’s why we continue to be supportive of fuel taxes.”

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Colorado State Patrol Officer Nearly Hit While Performing Traffic Stop on I-25

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It was a close call for a Colorado State Trooper on Tuesday morning when a vehicle slammed into a car on Interstate 25 that was pulled over for a traffic stop.

Dashcam footage from the trooper’s vehicle captured the harrowing crash and just how close a call it was for Colorado State Patrol Trooper Travis Hood.

Hood had just pulled over the driver of a 2010 Kia Sedan and was walking back to his vehicle after collecting the driver’s license of the occupant in order to write a citation.

Mere seconds later, a 2008 Dodge Minivan careened into the stationary vehicle subsequently launching the Kia into a concrete barrier wall.

Hood was uninjured in the collision. The occupant of the Kia sustained moderate injuries and was transported to a local hospital.

The driver of the minivan sustained minor injuries and was cited for careless driving.

“Every day law enforcement officers and other roadway workers put themselves at risk in an effort to improve safety on our roadways,” said Colonel Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.

“Sadly incidents like these happen with incredible frequency and we are fortunate that a bigger tragedy didn’t play out yesterday on I-25,” he said. “There is no excuse for driving past any stopped vehicle at this rate of speed.

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WYDOT Proposes Reroute Of I-80 To Avoid Winter Closures

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

With Wyoming only in the start of its most treacherous travel months of the year, travelers used to driving on Interstate 80 are preparing for the regular closures that accompany winter weather.

What the state’s Department of Transportation would really like to see, however, is an end to some of those closures by rerouting the southern Wyoming highway away from the worst of the weather.

Luke Reiner, WYDOT director, said the agency has made a unique proposal to the federal government – rerouting I-80 to avoid the part of the interstate that closes most often.

“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 said. “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 said if the interstate could be shifted to the north, many weather-related closures could be avoided.

“Our suggestion to the federal government is to say, ‘If you want to do something for the nation’s commerce along I-80, reroute it. Follow Highway 30 — it’s about 100 miles of new interstate, the estimated cost would be about $6 billion,’” he said. “So, it’s not cheap, but our estimate is that it would dramatically reduce the number of days the interstate’s closed, because that’s the section that that kills us.”

Reiner said that essentially, I-80 all the way across Wyoming is a mountain pass.

“I mean, it’s 6,200 feet,” he said. “And so that brings its own trouble, and then of course the drastic wind events, the high wind events and blowing snow that we have in Arlington, around Elk Mountain, really caused a lot of trouble.”

According to staff at WYDOT, in February of 2021, I-80 was closed to commercial truck traffic almost 12% of the daytime hours that month; in December of 2021, the highway was closed to commercial traffic almost 16% of the month due to inclement weather.

“(I-80) is closed more to high profile light vehicles then it is closed to all traffic,” Reiner said. “And that’s an important distinction, because we cannot control the wind events.”

Beyond the impact on Wyoming traffic, Reiner pointed out that closures on this particular stretch of interstate affect the whole country.

“That wind event negatively affects the economy of our nation, because it stops the trucks,” he said. “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.”

John Waggener, whose book “Snow Chi Minh Trail” details the history of the interstate, told Cowboy State Daily the Legislature actually entertained a bill during the 1973 legislative session to close the stretch of the interstate between Laramie and Walcott Junction in the winter.

Waggener noted the state has been innovative in adopting measures to try to keep the road open as safely as possible.

“The Laramie-Walcott stretch of I-80 essentially became ground zero for wintertime highway maintenance innovation,” he said. “This road ushered in the road closure gate (the first in the nation on a major highway), the highway department began the use of the variable message sign on this road, as well as the variable speed limit. 

And perhaps the biggest investment was the snow fence project,” he continued. “Though snow fences existed and were in use around the state, no major technical research had been done for snow fences. I-80 became the testing ground for what became the industry standard snow fence (the design is in use around the world.)”

In spite of the best efforts of the state’s transportation department, closures continue to plague interstate travel. And Reiner is realistic about the reality of the rerouting project coming to fruition.

“I think the chances of this happening are very, very, very, very small,” he said.

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Rolling Closures Help Keep Wyo Traffic Moving During Interstate Emergencies

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to keeping cars and trucks “moving” during a weather event like the ones that slowed travel on interstates over the last few weekends.

Traffic on Interstate 80 in southwestern Wyoming was at a standstill for much of the weekend due to a storm that caused 91 accidents between Thursday and Friday.

Those types of closures, which happen often during the winter months, can cause real problems for locals who live off the interstate and can put a strain on service stations, restaurants and hotels in communities where the traffic is backed up.

“When you shut down a road based on weather, trucks keep coming from either the west or the east,” said WYDOT Director Luke Reiner. “Eventually the town where you shut down the road because of the storm, it fills up with trucks. So then you’ve got to go back to the population center that is NOT affected by the storm and close the road there, so that you can start stacking trucks and handling the interstate traffic, because there’s no room at the road where (the closure is) at.” 

Reiner used a hypothetical closure in Rawlins as an example to describe a process the department calls “rolling closures.”

“Let’s say that we close the road in Rawlins and it’s closed eastbound and westbound,” he said. “So you close in Rawlins, and all of the traffic keeps coming and coming and coming. And finally, Rawlins is filled with trucks, and there’s no place for them to sleep, and there’s no hotel rooms for the people traveling and cars. And so then we back up to where we close the road in Rock Springs. That’s a rolling closure.”

But for Wyoming residents who want to avoid the rolling closures and use other highways to get from one part of the state to another, WYDOT has a tool it uses to keep traffic moving during storm events.

“We do have a very good program called W-TAP, which is the Wyoming Travel Authorization Program,” Reiner explained. “And a portion of that is permission to travel — for Wyoming residents — during a rolling closure.”

Reiner said that Wyoming residents can sign up for W-TAP on the Department’s website (click here for the link), which will give them an authorization code to travel on roads that are off-limits due to a rolling closure. He explained that residents don’t receive the authorization instantly, they must submit their driver’s license number and then get approval from WYDOT.

“Using that example I just gave you, the road between Rawlins and Rock Springs, that would be fine,” Reiner said, meaning that the weather impact would be in Rawlins, and the highway between Rock Springs and Rawlins would still be safe to drive. “We don’t care if you’re on that road, if you are going to stay in Rawlins. So if you want to run to Rawlins, and then you want to go north to Muddy Gap and go to Casper, we want you to do that. 

“But the way you get authority to go around the gate, is you sign up for W-TAP, and specifically sign up for rolling closure authorization” he continued. “Because then we’ll send you a secret code, and you give it to the nice trooper at the gate, and he’ll let you go by.”

Another scenario that WYDOT deals with during snow events has to do with local residents who aren’t trying to use the interstate to cross the state – they’re simply trying to get home. Reiner said that there’s a program called Wyoming Authorized Travel that addresses that issue.

“Sometimes we close a gate – but we only have so many gates, and it’s possible for the first 10 miles beyond the gate, that the road is fine,” Reiner said. “If you live in that 10 miles, you may want to go home. And the WAT gives you permission to go around the gate and go to your house. And the WATs are issued from mile post to mile post. And again, you can sign up for it. And again, it’s a tool to help you move around the state effectively during snowstorms.”

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Wyoming Travel Runs Smoothly After Weekend Of Accidents, Halted Traffic

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By Cowboy State Daily

Traffic was running smoothly across Wyoming on Monday as a storm front that rocked the state over the weekend with hurricane-force winds abated.

Wyoming Department of Transportation road condition reports showed highway traffic moving well, a sharp contrast to a weekend that saw hundred of vehicles stopped behind highway gates because of high winds and drifting and blowing snow.

The impacts were the greatest in southern Wyoming, where sections of Interstate 80 remained closed throughout most of the weekend. The Wyoming Highway Patrol said it received reports of 91 accidents on the highway between Rawlins and the Utah State line between Thursday and Friday alone.

However, the storm’s impacts were also felt in northeastern and central Wyoming, where winds of up to 70 mph battered travelers and generated blowing and drifting snow and icy road conditions.

Sections of Interstate 25 were closed by the weather and although some sections remained open, travel was treacherous, according to witnesses.

“The road was a sheet of ice, and our bus driver — who was fantastic — was having a really hard time keeping the bus on the road,” said Kennedy Corr, assistant coach for the Cody Drama Club, said of the trip from Cheyenne to Cody on Saturday. “The wind was blowing so hard that it was literally moving the bus on the ice.”

Corr and the club members were in Cheyenne for the state Thespian Festival, which ended Saturday. When preparing to leave, the team found that many of the highways in and out of Cheyenne were closed.

“You could go south and you could go east, but you couldn’t go north or west. And we waited to see if it would melt at all – it didn’t,” she said. “It actually got worse, because then the interstate closed from Orin Junction (near Douglas) to Casper.”

The road conditions forced the group to travel north toward Lusk on Wyoming Highway 85 and it ultimately got to the interstate through Guernsey.

Further north, near Gillette, the weather forced the closure of Wyoming Highway 50 south of Gillette, where a snowplow became stuck in steep drifts.

However, warmer temperatures cleared most of the state’s roads by Monday afternoon and conditions were expected to remain mild until Tuesday, when some snow and winds were forecast for western and central Wyoming.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeremy Beck did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

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Wyo Dept Of Transportation Installs Solar Snow Fence Between Laramie, Cheyenne

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A highway snow fence that doubles as a solar power collector has been installed along Interstate 80 as part of a a pilot project exploring ways to get year-round value from snow fences, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) announced.

The agency said if the the solar snow fence project, which has been set-up between Cheyenne and Laramie, is successful, the panels could power remote roadside instrumentation and even feed into the power grid. But first, it needs to see if the solar panels can work in such a challenging environment.

“Snow fences are a valuable tool in winter travel safety, but they’re only useful during the snowy months,” WYDOT spokesperson Doug McGee said.

Traditional snow fences use wooden slats to reduce the amount of wind-driven snow blowing onto and across a highway.

Instead of wooden slats, the fence being tested is made of hardened photovoltaic (relating to the production of electric current at the junction of two substances exposed to light) panels that will pivot to track the sun.

The panels will lock in place when needed to be used as a snow fence.

McGee said that the inventor and designer of the fence received a federal grant for a pilot project to study the dual use fixture, and approached WYDOT about participating.

“This is just another evolution in using different materials that allows us to accomplish the same goal of being able to prevent snow from getting onto our roadways and prevent crashes,” McGee said.

If the pilot project is deemed successful, there’s a lot of room for expansion. There are more than 40 miles of snow fences along Interstate 80 in Wyoming.

The agency says by controlling drifts and keeping the pavement warmer, the existing snow fences have helped to keep the road clear of snow, which has cut snow and ice removal costs for the highway by 50 percent.

The savings over a 10-year period paid for the snow fences, the agency said.

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Wyoming Still Doesn’t Have Enough Snowplow Drivers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

As winter weather (finally) arrives in Wyoming, the state Department of Transportation is still facing a shortage of drivers to plow thousands of miles of highways.

“We’re about 15% down in our permanent staffing in terms of snowplow drivers,” WYDOT director Luke Reiner told Cowboy State Daily back in October – and this week, he said that number hasn’t changed much.

“We’ve hired a few across the state,” he said, “but we are still very cognizant that we’re short.”

So just as he did when he was the leader of the Wyoming National Guard, Reiner resorts to “calling up” former drivers to fill seats when needed.

“If it’s a regional storm, we’ll search from outside to make sure we cover that area,” Reiner said. “But if it’s a great big storm, then we’ll cover it with people who used to be snowplow drivers and still have a CDL, and we’ll put them back on the road.”

Reiner said it’s not difficult to find former drivers within the ranks of current WYDOT employees.

“It might be someone got promoted up to an area maintenance supervisor position or something like that,” he said. “Well, those guys have said, ‘Hey, we’ll go back, we’ll get some windshield time, and we’ll help out.’”

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Wyoming has 62,620 miles of highways. So finding enough drivers to keep roads clear during a major storm event is critical, according to Reiner.

Reiner said it is easier to find crews for some parts of the state than others.

“The crews in the northern part of the state are probably, percentage wise, better manned than are our I-80 crews,” he said.

Tom DeHoff, WYDOT’s assistant chief engineer of operations, said the department has been able to hire a few snowplow drivers, but because there haven’t been very many snowstorms yet this season, there haven’t been many opportunities for training.

“It’s kind of like the first storm is getting the new guys in the trucks,” DeHoff said. “Because we have a lot of inexperienced snowplow drivers that are still doing ride-alongs with the experienced snow drivers. So that’s taking place right now, to train them, get them used to those roads in those conditions.”

Reiner said the top priority for the department is the safety of drivers on Wyoming highways.

“Our commitment to the state is, ‘Hey, we’ve got a job to do,’” he said. “And to the best of our ability, we’re in the business of getting it done.”

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Uh-Oh, Wyoming Has Shortage of Snowplow Drivers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The snowstorm that hit Wyoming two weeks ago placed in sharp relief the shortage of qualified snowplow drivers needed to keep the state’s  highways clear during weather events. 

Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, told  Cowboy State Daily that there are many WYDOT stations around the state that are not staffed as well as the department would like.

“We’re probably about 15% down in our permanent staffing in terms of snowplow drivers,” he said. “And then additionally, we always hire about 40 temporary technicians every year, and have really had a lot of difficulty hiring those.”

In an effort to keep roads open during winter weather events, Reiner said the department has a few strategies. One is the department’s “Snow Plan,” a system of prioritizing roads for clearing which he said worked well last year.

“We said, ‘Hey, every road is not created equal,’” he explained. “And so we’re going to prioritize our interstates, and those are 24-hour roads, and then we’ve got some other roads that are 20 hours, and we will keep that plan in place.”

Additionally, Reiner said the department can move available staff around the state to work on roads that are hardest hit.

“If it’s not a storm that’s across the entire state, we have sent operators from one area to another,” he said, pointing out how the department managed staff during last winter’s major snowstorm in the southeast corner of Wyoming. “So the crews in the southeast, they worked locally, and they started working outward. And then we had crews that attacked it from the north and from the west. And so we used all available forces to clear the roads really, pretty dramatically fast.”

But the shortage of full-time workers was painfully felt in the northeast corner of the state earlier in October. So Reiner said the department used all the resources it had available.

“Anybody who … had a (commercial drivers license) and that was qualified to run a plow truck, they put in a plow truck,” he said. “So mechanics that used to be maintainers, and safety officers that used to be maintainers, and traffic techs that used to be maintainers. In my mind, that was great initiative, and a great use of available resources.”

Reiner also said that the department will continue to implement “rolling closures” on I-80 during major snow events – closing the interstate miles before the actual problem area, near communities that have restaurants and lodging, in order to spread out available resources for travelers who are stranded by a storm.

“So you go back to the population center that is not affected by the storm and close the road there, so that you can start stacking trucks and handling the interstate traffic, because there’s no room at the road where (the closure) is at,” he explained. “It’s a good thing for our trucks, it’s a good thing for the communities, just controlling traffic.”

But the methods the department is using to address the staff shortages are just short-term solutions, which Reiner said officials recognize.

“As a state we’re taking a look at our compensation plan, because our state’s compensation plan has really not been adjusted significantly for some time,” he said. “And the discussion we’re starting to have is, it’s probably time to change that, because while there’s a shortage across the board, our compensation plan really doesn’t compete in terms of attracting men and women to our service.”

And it’s not just snowplow drivers that the department is short on — Reiner said the Wyoming Highway Patrol is also currently understaffed.

“Safety on our roads is more than plows,” Reiner said. “It’s having somebody out there to man the gates, having somebody out there to respond to the accidents when they happen. And in our troopers we’re about 15% down.”

Reiner had high praise for the people who already make up the staff of the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“I thank the hard working men and women of WYDOT for what they’re doing for this state across the board,” he noted. “And we have lots of job openings, working for a fantastic organization. So if you want a great job, please come join us.”

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Cheyenne Air Service To Denver To Resume Nov. 1

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will no longer have the distinction of having the only state capital without air service.

The Cheyenne Regional Airport on Thursday announced that air service will finally resume in Cheyenne on November 1.

The airport’s runway has been under construction for months and suffered multiple delays.

Airport director Tim Barth told Cowboy State Daily that it was exciting to announce the conclusion of the delayed runway repair project.

“We are so excited to re-establish air service on Nov. 1, because all of our community in southeast Wyoming will now have access to air service, especially for the upcoming holidays,” Barth said.

The airport has been closed for commercial air travel for months, due to repairs that were originally scheduled to be completed this summer in time for Cheyenne Frontier Days.

That didn’t happen because of a nationwide shortage of a specific type of concrete that must be used according to Federal Aviation Administration rules. A lack of workers was also making the process take months longer to complete.

Barth said travelers using Denver International Airport have told him tales of agonizingly long lines and massive headaches when it comes to parking.

“If you come to our airport, you don’t have to take a shuttle. You’re parked right next to the airport and we’ve got plenty of free parking,” Barth said. “There’s no traffic on I-25 to get to the Cheyenne airport.”

Barth added that the airport is also adding a restaurant, Billy Jack’s Pizza Pub, that he is hoping will be open in January.

In September, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis received a commitment from Department of Transportation officials to expedite federal funds to assist with the project.

“It is not a long-term solution for the city of Cheyenne to be without air service,” Lummis said. “In addition to that, it’s a huge problem for Cheyenne’s economy, it will jeopardize our state’s efforts to combat wildfires and it jeopardizes procurement for F.E. Warren Air Force Base.”

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Weird Frankenstein-Looking Truck/Airplane Combo Spotted on Interstate 80

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Motorists traveling along Interstate 80 on Wednesday may have seen an unusual vehicle traveling down the highway.

It was a hybrid. 

Not that type of hybrid. Those are everywhere.

This one was a combo truck/airplane that kind of looked like an older Space Shuttle that was cut in half and then put on wheels.

The Frankenstein-vehicle is actually a 1943 Douglas DC-3 aircraft that was used by the U.S. Navy during World War II in South America. 

A family from Michigan bought the plane in a junkyard after it was destroyed in a tornado and welded it onto an International truck frame. After a lot of work, it became street legal.

Now the “Fabulous Flamingo” is fairly well-known in offbeat RV circles.

What it was doing in Wyoming is not known — at least by us.

But the Wyoming Highway Patrol Association shared the photo on Facebook and fans shared what they knew about it.

Our favorite comment was from Amy Varland who called it the “turducken of trucks.”

One fan shared a photo of it gassing up in Rock Springs while another showed it in action from Iowa two weeks ago.

Why build such a vehicle?

Aviation appears to be in the creator’s blood. He’s a pilot, mechanic, and aviation inspector.

“I always wanted to build one, since I was 12-years-old, and I just wanted to make an airplane out of a motor home,” said Gino Lucci from Nashville, Michigan. “The truck won’t fly, but the airplane drives.”

It’s probably good for business too.  He sells vintage airplane parts from the 1920s through the 1960s.  

If you are excited to see what the interior looks like, you might be disappointed if you were expecting something amazing.

It looks kind of plane (pardon the pun).

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder so this is a no judgment zone.

It does have a bathroom complete with a working bathtub so there’s that bonus.

For a much more in depth look at the Fabulous Flamingo, watch the video below.

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Air Force Reserve Lands C-130J Super Hercules on Highway Near Rawlins

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Air Force Reserve Command kicked off a week-long exercise, Rally in the Rockies 2021,  by landing a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft on the highway near Rawlins, Wyoming, Sept. 13.

The highway closed early in the morning to ensure the aircrew could safely practice recovering personnel without access to a runway within simulated enemy territory.

This was one of many training scenarios scheduled for Sept. 13-16 across Colorado and Wyoming, involving more than 12 Reserve and National Guard units. Units are tasked with delivering critical cargo and personnel to U.S. Forces located in simulated contested areas.

“The Rally in the Rockies exercise ensures the Air Force Reserve and National Guard can provide an instantaneous surge capacity across most mission sets to strengthen our active duty counterparts,” said Maj. Nick Hainsfurther, 913th Operations Support Squadron pilot and lead exercise planner.

“With the help of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, we were able to successfully demonstrate our versatile combat airlift capabilities,” he said.

The 913th Airlift Group based out of Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, served as the lead planning unit in the mobility-focused exercise. Reserve Citizen Airmen crafted the scenario and aligned logistics to ensure each unit could focus on training.

In order to effectively accomplish combat operations, current scenarios assume traditional bases will be immediately threatened.

The exercise required various units to come together to deliver cargo, paratroopers, artillery, task force resupply and to conduct personnel extraction. The scenario was designed to test the interoperability of Reserve and National Guard units to execute Multi-Capable Airmen missions in challenging, contested scenarios.

“This is an exercise evolution of the Rally in the Valley 2020 exercise conducted in West Virginia,” said Maj. Christopher Acs, 327th Airlift Squadron pilot and exercise planner. “Our efforts will prepare Reserve and National Guard units to execute at the speed and range required to take on near-peer adversaries. Additional training included combat airlift as well as multi-capable mobility Airmen who are able to refuel and re-arm aircraft in austere locations with minimal support.”

Hainsfurther added that exercises such as RitR21 are critical to ensuring Reserve forces can project the Joint Force when called upon, enabling strategic depth for the future fight.

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UW Author Discusses His Book: “Snow Chi Minh Trail: A History of Interstate 80”

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By Kayne Pyatt, Uinta County Herald

EVANSTON — “I was born and raised in Green River and attended the University of Wyoming so I have spent a lot of time on Interstate 80; and being stuck in Laramie because of weather conditions.  That 77 miles between Rawlins and Laramie is a nasty stretch of road,” University of Wyoming Archivist John Waggener told the audience at the Uinta County Museum’s brown bag lunch last month.

Waggener was the keynote speaker at the August lunch series to discuss the research in his book, titled “Snow Chi Minh Trail: A History of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction” (50th Anniversary Edition). Waggener said the history behind the development of I-80 became a personal interest due to having traveled that stretch of miles many times. 

In his research, Waggener found that the Wyoming Highway Commission had assumed that the Interstate would just follow U.S. 30 but the Federal government had different plans.  The feds, Waggener said, wanted to cut off approximately 20 miles on the journey by using a different route.  The route the Feds planned would bypass communities and had serious winter conditions.

From 1956 through 1959, the I-80 vs. US 30 debate took place in the U.S. Senate.  It even continued up until 1973.  Senator Gayle McGee fought long and hard with the Federal Bureau of Public Roads but the Wyoming Highway Commission lost the debate. 

An interesting fact, Waggener shared, was that during the debate in the 1950s, Wyoming Highway Department set up stations on the highway and asked motorists if they would rather save 20 miles on their journey or be able to stop in towns along the way. Ninety percent responded that they would rather save the 20 miles. 

Since the Interstate highway is federal and motorists from all over the country travel it on their way to somewhere else, the thinking was that saving the mileage was most important, Waggener said, and added that the trucking and bus industries had a powerful lobby with the Senate. 

A lot of compromise routes were proposed; one going next to Elk Mountain and another to join I-25 from Casper at Laramie but Waggener said, “The feds had their own plan.”

Waggener said for years there was a myth that Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, had something to do with choosing the route.  Lady Bird had come to Wyoming in 1965 for the dedication of Flaming Gorge Dam and the myth was that she told them to put the highway next to Elk Mountain as part of her highway beautification project. 

“However,” Waggener said, “Lady Bird Johnson was never in that area and the route for I-80 was proposed in 1955, ten years prior to her visit. So we can put that myth to bed.”

Construction began on I-80 the summer of 1966 and it took four years to build the 77 miles between Laramie and Walcott Junction.

On Oct. 3, 1970, a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting was held at Arlington with 400 people in attendance. Motorists traveling from a football game at UW were a captured audience due to the ceremony held in the middle of the highway. 

Four days after the ceremony, I-80 was closed due to winter weather. Waggener said, “The people of Wyoming could have said, ‘We told you so!’”

Waggener used the name “Snow Chi Minh Trail” because Wyomingites called it that. He found a story in the Rawlins Daily Times dated Oct. 12, 1970, referencing the U.S. bomber raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the description of the weather there that matched the weather on I-80 in Wyoming which he thought may have been the origin for people in Wyoming giving the 77 miles of I-80 the name.

When journalist Charles Kuralt traveled I-80 in Wyoming for a feature story in January of 1972, he called it the worse road in the U.S.  In Kuralt’s book “On the Road,” he mentions the Valentine’s Day massacre, a major pile-up of motorists on I-80, where he and his photographer took an injured woman in their car to the hospital in Laramie.

Waggener continued the history of I-80 in Wyoming with a discussion of the creation of snow fences to control the snow drifts in order to maintain travel. Different styles of fences were used and none were sufficient to stop the massive amounts of drifting snow due to excessive wind. There were 24 areas with major problems with drifting snow and wind.

WYDOT had never dealt with anything like this before so they enlisted the help of the Forest Service. Together they researched with scale models to see which style of fence would work.  Finally, in 1971 they came up with what is known and used around the world as the Wyoming fence. That 12-foot-high snow fence is still being used today.

“The Wyoming fence should be our icon, like the cowboy. The Union Pacific was putting up snow fences within weeks of our becoming a territory in 1868,” Waggener said.

The next problem WYDOT faced was how to control traffic when roads needed to be closed.  From 1970 through 1973, hundreds of motorists had been stranded on the highway. WYDOT’s first solution was to have personnel stand out on the highway at the closure point waving a stop sign, which was a waste of manpower and unsafe.

In 1973, WYDOT installed the first gate at Laramie and Walcott Junction. From 1991 through the present day, drop down gates and overhead information signs were installed. Variable speed limit signs were placed on the highway in 2008 and expanded in 2010. WYDOT also placed sand sheds across I-80 and established a mission control center in Cheyenne that manages the signs, electricity, and data.

“History is the present as well as the old history. What will be the future for I-80? Increased traffic? A recent study showed that 60% of all traffic on I-80 is commercial trucks. WYDOT is building more parking lots on I-80 and braking lanes for trucks in order to manage safety,” Waggener said. “A UW professor is currently working on a computer program that could connect communication between all trucks on the highway.”

Waggener wrapped up his presentation, “Thank you for coming. Be safe and enjoy wonderful Wyoming.  By the way, the proceeds from the sale of my book go to the Wyoming Historical Society and to the Uinta County Museum.”

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Rock Work Getting Underway In Wind River Canyon

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An $8.78 million slide stabilization/rock scaling project is scheduled began Tuesday, alongside U.S. Highway 20/Wyo. Highway 789 through the Wind River Canyon.

Prime contractor Oftedal Construction Inc., of Casper, started hauling equipment into the area — located between Shoshoni and Thermopolis — on Monday.

“The contractor plans to start slide stabilization work, with rock scaling, near the Upper Wind River Campground and the canyon tunnels,” said Wyoming Department of Transportation project engineer Jordan Erz of Worland.

Erz said the state campground will remain open for public use at all times during slide stabilization efforts.

Rockfall scaling locations in Wind River Canyon include milepost 116.3 (highway tunnels), mileposts 116.79 to 116.82 (north of the tunnels/just south of the Fremont/Hot Springs county line), mileposts 118.12 to 118.18, and mileposts 120.41 to 120.61 (3 miles north of the county line).

“The contractor should only be working one of these sections at a time unless unforeseen circumstances change this schedule,” Erz said. “Traffic should expect 20-minute delays, with one-way traffic when everything is clear for falling rocks. The contractor expects these areas to take a month to manually clear loose rocks from the canyon wall ledges.”

The Wind River Canyon slide stabilization project includes slide repair, grading, slide stabilization rock (SSR), manual rock scaling, rock fall mitigation and other work on U.S. 20/Wyo. 789 from milepost 115.9 through 123.12 inside the canyon.

Contract completion date is Nov. 30, 2022.

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Wyoming Highway Projects Continue To Delay Traffic Across The State

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Those thousands of visitors making their way to the state’s top tourist destinations may be getting a break home, but they won’t get much in the way of a break from highway construction delays this week.

Construction projects continue at full speed across the state, with dozens of projects on Wyoming’s roads creating the potential for slowed and stopped traffic, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s road condition website.

On Interstate 80, delays are expected with a bridge replacement project near Hillsdale, while pavement marking projects in Laramie county will also cause delays on the highway west of Cheyenne. Another bridge rehabilitation project will cause delays near Laramie.

Continuing construction on a project to expand the parking lot at Fort Steele will continue to delay traffic west of Laramie, and a construction project near Elk Mountain will delay traffic there as well.

On Interstate 25, bridge rehabilitation projects are expected to cause delays between Cheyenne and the Colorado border, as well as south of Chugwater, while delays of up to 20 minutes are expected south of Kaycee for a paving project.

On Interstate 90, a bridge repair project east of Moorcroft is expected to create some traffic delays.

A number of projects are also underway on state and federal highways. Work causing delays in travel can be expected in the following areas:

U.S. Highway 14/16/20 west of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes;

Wyoming Highway 120 northwest of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes;

Wyoming Highway 296 northwest of Cody, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 14A between Cody and Powell, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 14A near Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 14A near Byron, expect delays; 

U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming Highway 789 near Cowley, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;

U.S. Highway 14A/310/Wyoming Highway 789 near Lovell, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 16/20/Wyoming Highway 789 near Worland, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming Highway 789 near Shoshoni, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 287 northwest of Lander, delays of up to 20 minutes;

Wyoming Highway 131 in Sinks Canyon, delays of up to 15 minutes;

U.S. Highway 287/Wyoming Highway 789 southeast of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;

U.S. Highway 26/287 northwest of Dubois, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 26/287 near Moran Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 189/191/26/89 south of Jackson, delays of up to 20 minutes between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.;

U.S. Highway 89 near Thayne, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;

Wyoming Highway 372/374 west of Rock Springs, delays of up to 10 minutes with stopped traffic;

U.S. Highway 16 near Ten Sleep, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 16 between Ten Sleep and Buffalo, delays of up to 15 minutes with stopped traffic;

U.S. Highway 20/26 west of Casper, delays of up to 20 minutes;

U.S. Highway 20/26/87 near Casper, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 20 east of Lusk, delays of up to 15 minutes with stopped traffic;

U.S. Highwy 85 between Lusk and Lingle, expect delays;

U.S. Highway 85 near Cheyenne, expect delays, and

Wyoming Highway 211 northwest of Cheyenne, expect delays.

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Wyoming Road Construction Update: Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Hurry up and wait remains the rule for a number of Wyoming’s highways as the state’s road construction season continues in full swing.

According to the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s road condition website, numerous projects are underway that could slow travelers across Wyoming this week.

On Interstate 25, a bridge rehabilitation project between Cheyenne and Chugwater is expected to cause some delays, while a paving project south of Kaycee will slow traffic and create delays of up to 20 minutes.

Delays are also expected on Interstate 90 east of Moorcroft because of bridge repair work.

On Interstate 80 a bridge replacement near Hillsdale east of Cheyenne is expected to cause some travel delays, as is a pavement marking project west of Cheyenne. A construction project west of Laramie will narrow travel to one lane in each direction and delays are expected to result from another construction project near Fort Steele. Delays are also expected to result from a construction project near Elk Mountain and west of Rock Springs.

A number of projects are also underway on state and federal highways. Work causing delays in travel can be expected in the following areas:

Wyoming Highway 296 northwest of Cody, expect delays;
Wyoming Highway 120 northwest of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 14/16/20 in Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
Wyoming Highway 120 south of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14A between Cody and Powell, expect delays;
U.S. Highway 14A east of Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 14A/310/Wyoming Highway 789 northeast of Powell, expect delays;
U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming Highway 789 north of Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 16/20/Wyoming Highway 789 north of Worland, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16/20/Wyoming Highway 789 near Worland, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16 east of Worland, delays of up to 15 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 16 near Ten Sleep, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 26/287 near Moran Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 26 northwest of Dubois, expect delays
U.S. Highway 189/191/26/89 south of Jackson, delays of up to 20 minutes between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.;
U.S. Highway 189/191 southeast of Jackson, delays of up to 10 minutes;
U.S. Highway 89 south of Alpine Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming Highway 789 near Shoshone, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 289 north of Lander, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
Wyoming Highway 372/374 west of Rock Springs, delays of up to 10 minutes with stopped traffic;
Wyoming Highway 22 northeast of Bairoil, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26 west of Casper, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26/87 in Casper, expect delays;
U.S. Highway 85 between Lingle and Lusk, expect delays;
Wyoming Highway 211 northwest of Cheyenne, expect delays, and
U.S. Highway 85 in Cheyenne, expect delays.

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Military Truck Carrying Ammunition Catches Fire on I-80

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Thanks to the Uinta County Fire Department, a disaster was averted on Monday afternoon when a military truck carrying ammunition caught fire on Interstate 80 outside of Evanston.

After the truck caught fire, the Wyoming Highway Patrol closed Interstate 80 as the fire department battled the blaze, which all but destroyed the cab of the truck.

The cargo containers which held the ammunition were not breached and the firefighters put out the blaze without any injuries.

After the fire was extinguished the military convoy — minus one truck — was able to continue its journey.

“We were headed to Evanston and passed it before any emergency vehicles were there,” said Susan Lallatin on Facebook.  “Guys were running with fire extinguishers! Great job putting it out.”

Todd Ranker, a motorist from Illinois who was stuck behind the burning truck told Cowboy State Daily he was concerned everything was going to explode.

“I thought it was going to be exactly like the movie ‘The Naked Gun’ where that missile hit the fireworks stand and everything blew up,” Ranker said.

“My wife and I watched that movie a couple weeks ago and I told her this is like deja vu or karma or something,” he said.

“The wreckage looked like an everyday scene in Chicago. I need to move out here to God’s country,” he added.

If the story sounds familiar, just last week a Humvee — also in a military convoy — caught fire during rush hour on a Friday afternoon in Utah.

There were no injuries reported in that accident either.

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Construction Season in Wyoming Causes Continuing Delays On Highways

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Construction season continues to be in full swing on Wyoming’s highways.

According to the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s road condition website, numerous projects are underway that could slow travelers across Wyoming this week.

The interstate highways are seeing plenty of work this week.

On Interstate 25, bridge rehabilitation and pavement marking work south of Cheyenne, bridge rehabilitation between Cheyenne and Chugwater and bridge construction in Casper are all expected to cause some traffic delays.

Near Kaycee, the DOT is advising drivers a highway construction project could create 20-minute delays with stopped traffic.

Interstate 90’s only project that could delay traffic is east of Moorcroft, where bridge repairs are underway.

On Interstate 80, a series of road projects are expected slow traffic east of Cheyenne, in Telephone Canyon between Cheyenne and Laramie, west of Laramie, at Elk Mountain, between Sinclair and Walcott and on either side of Rock Springs.

A number of projects are also underway on state and federal highways. Work causing delays in travel can be expected in the following areas:

Wyoming Highway 296 northwest of Cody, expect delays;
Wyomig Highway 120 northwest of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming Highway 789 north of Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14A/310/Wyoming Highway 789 near Lovell, expect delays;
U.S. Highway 14/16/20 in Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
Wyoming Highway 30 between Basin and Burlington, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16/20/Wyoming Highway 789 near Worland, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16 between Worland and Ten Sleep, delays of up to 15 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 16 east of Ten Sleep, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 26/287 between Moran Junction and Dubois, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming Highway 789 at Shoshoni, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 287 north of Lander, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 287/Wyoming Highway 789 southeast of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 28 south of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 189/191/26/89 south of Jackson, delays of up to 20 minutes between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
U.S. Highway 189/191 at Pinedale Bridge, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 89 between Thayne and Alpine Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes, stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 20/26 west of Casper, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 220 southwest of Casper, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26/87 in Casper, expect delays;
U.S. Highway 85 between Lingle and Lusk, expect delays, and
Wyoming Highway 211 northwest of Cheyenne, expect delays.

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Delays Everywhere In Wyoming With 43 Road Construction Projects Ongoing

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As is often said, there are four seasons in Wyoming — Winter, late winter, early winter and construction.

And the construction season is well underway across the state, with 43 projects ongoing, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

According to the department’s road condition website many of the projects are taking place on Interstates 25, 80 and 90, although few should result in traffic delays. The delays that do occur will be the result of lane restrictions or reduced speed limits, the department said.

On Interstate 90, the department said some delays will occur in the area of a bridge repair project near Moorcroft and a paving project near Moorcroft.

Delays on Interstate 25 can be expected around a paving project between Kaycee and Casper, a bridge rehabilitation project in Casper and a bridge rehabilitation project north of Cheyenne.

On Interstate 80, delays can be expected near a bridge replacement project east of Cheyenne, a pavement marking project west of Cheyenne, rock work in Telephone Canyon west of Cheyenne, construction of new semitruck parking spaces at the Fort Steele Rest Area east of Sinclair,  a paving project at Elk Mountain and bridge rehabilitation work west of Rock Springs.

A number of projects are also underway on state and federal highways. Work causing delays in travel can be expected in the following areas:

U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming Highway 789 west of Cowley, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26/16 near Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 120 between Cody and the Montana border, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 120 south of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14/16/20 near Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14 east of Cody, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16/20, Wyoming Highway 789 north of Thermopolis, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20, Wyoming Highway 789 north of Shoshoni, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 287 northwest of Lander, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic
U.S. Highway 26 west of Dubois, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 26, Wyoming Highway 287 between Dubois and Moran Junction, delays;
U.S. Highway 26/287 between Dubois and Moran Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 189/191/26/89 south of Jackson, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 89 between Thayne and Alpine Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 28 south of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 287, Wyoming Highway 789 south of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26 west of Casper, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 220 north of Rawlins, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 85 between Lingle and Lusk, expect delays, and
Wyoming Highway 211 north of Cheyenne, expect delays.

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Signs Of Summer: WYDOT To Open Highway 14A in Northern Wyoming on Friday

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The Wyoming Department of Transportation is set to open US 14A by noon on Friday, May 28.  

US 14A is one of four mountain passes that are affected by seasonal winter closures. This 22-mile stretch of scenic mountain road is located in the Bighorn Mountains of north-central Wyoming. WYDOT closes these routes in the late fall once maintaining the roads due to heavy, drifting snow makes it difficult and impractical. 

Crews from both the Lovell and Burgess Junction sides began snow removal operations at the beginning of May with a target date of Memorial Day to open.  The snowpack was low this season, which allowed crews to complete plowing operations earlier than usual.  

This early completion allowed construction contractors to perform crack seal operations on US 14A while it is still closed, thus eliminating the associated costs of traffic control. These operations are scheduled to be completed the week of May 24 just in time for the official opening of US 14A. 

Although access to many forest service roads is not available at this time, motorists are asked to stay on US 14A and not attempt to access any other roads at this time. 

WYDOT reminds motorists to obey all speed limits, wear your seatbelt at all time, watch for wildlife and enjoy this spectacular drive. 

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is set to open US 14A by noon on Friday, May 28.

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Wyoming Rest Areas Busy As They Reopen on Friday

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The cars and trucks have not stopped coming to the Chugwater rest area since it reopened early Friday morning. Even before its entry gates went up at 6 a.m. for the first time in nearly a year, two trucks and horse trailers were lined up waiting. 

Since then, the visits have not slowed, according to LaCynda Fortik, who manages the contract for the reopened facility. 

The Chugwater rest area was one of 10 around the state that closed last June due to budget cuts implemented by Governor Mark Gordon, a move that saved the state roughly $200,000. 

As of Friday morning, nine of those reopened, including those at or near:

Lusk on U.S. Highway 18
Guernsey on U.S. Highway 26
Greybull on U.S. Highway 16
Moorcroft on Interstate 90
Star Valley on U.S. Highway 89
Sundance on Interstate 90
Upton on U.S. Highway 16
Orin Junction on Interstate 25, and
Chugwater on Interstate 25

Only the Fort Steele rest area off 1-80 will remain closed, according to Doug McGee, public affairs manager for WYDOT.

McGee said the rest area is closed because of a large construction project in the vicinity currently underway to expand truck parking by about 200 parking spots to provide refuge for drivers in inclement weather when the interstate shuts down. The project is scheduled to be complete by fall of 2022, when the rest area will reopen, McGee said.

Getting the rest of the shuttered rest areas up and running in time for summer tourist season was a priority for the office of Gov. Mark Gordon. Gordon tasked WYDOT to partner with Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) to appropriate available federal funding to make it happen.

“We wanted to show the world that Wyoming is open for business,” McGee said, “and we wanted to help people feel welcome.”

McGee said the department is in the process of applying for funding from multiple sources. The goal is to keep the rest areas open through Sept. 30, if not longer. Ideally, the state will find funding to keep them open year-round. 

Overhead electronic signs on 1-25 this morning advertised the newly opened rest areas throughout the state, and Fortik noted it was effective advertising.

“It’s so busy,” she said, taking a brief break from duties Friday morning. “That place has not stopped since the gates went up.”

Mostly, it’s been vehicles with out-of-state license plates and a lot of snowbirds making their way back home, she said. 

Maintaining the rest areas keeps Fortik and other contractors hopping from dust to dawn. They’re responsible for removing and disposing of all trash, litter and weeds on the grounds, cleaning the walks and parking area, as well as maintaining the restroom facilities and mowing the grounds, among other duties.

Fortik estimated that she and her small crew of helpers stop by the rest area three to four times a day for a minimum of three-to-four hours per day. 

Mowing is by far the hardest job to keep up on, she said, though she makes it her business to keep the rest area looking clean because in her experience, she’s found that people are much more likely to respect a clean facility than a dirty one. 

McGee did not have current figures on what it will cost to maintain the nine rest areas for the four-month season, though based on last year’s figures, the costliest one to run was the rest area off 1-25 at Orin Junction at $10,324 per month.

Chugwater came in second at just under $9,873, while the Star Valley rest area was the cheapest to maintain at $1,449 per month.

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Funds To Drill 1.3 Mile Tunnel Through Teton Pass On Wish List For WYDOT

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s kind of like making a list for Santa Claus at Christmas.

At least, that’s the way it sounds when Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner starts listing the large-scale projects that the state is pitching to be paid for with President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

“The guidance we received, in terms of this infrastructure bill, was ‘Don’t send us your maintenance projects – think outside the box, send us some bigger, more high dollar items that you would like to build if you had the opportunity,’” he said. 

It’s an exciting list, by anyone’s standards. Some of the more imaginative plans involve tunnels through Teton Pass and through the Wind River Canyon.

And maybe a rerouting of a particularly treacherous section of I-80 near Elk Mountain.

“What that does for the nation, is it provides the opportunity for that for I-80 to be open a lot more on any given year, because that’s the area we always closed,” Reiner explained. “So you reroute it along Highway 30.”

And that tunnel through Teton Pass? It’s not as outlandish as it may seem.

“There was actually a study that was done, I want to say it was in 2008, to look at the feasibility of that,” Reiner said. “I think there’s 1.3 miles, it starts halfway up the mountain, wherever that is, and it goes right through.”

And there are many benefits to such a tunnel, according to Reiner. 

“One, it avoids the avalanche-prone area, and that would help really make that road more passable,” he said, pointing out that in a part of the state where the cost of living is outlandish for workers, that stretch of highway plays an important role in the economy by getting workers to and from their jobs.

“It’s not lost on us that that has become a major commuter route for employees who work in Jackson and live in Idaho,” Reiner said. “The average daily traffic on that road is one of the highest in our state.”

Other projects on the “wish list” include:

I-80 electric vehicle charging stations;
Statewide airport Improvements;
Maintenance for the Beartooth Highway in northwest Wyoming;
Critical highway and bridge repairs for Interstate 80, along with additional truck climbing lanes and truck parking;
Wildlife connectivity and hazard mitigation projects, and
Increasing the capacity on Wyoming Highwy 22 outside of grand Teton National Park.

Reiner pointed out the big projects on the department’s “wish list” aren’t what the department would normally prioritize.

“You know, our focus in the state, based on budget, is maintaining the assets we currently have,” Reiner said.

He added the proposed infrastructure plan would not make money available for necessary maintenance projects that are currently backlogged because of the state’s current budget deficit.

But the “wish list” may actually be moot if the U.S. House and Senate can’t agree on the infrastructure bill itself.

“Remember, this bill has not passed through Congress,” Reiner said. “The Republicans have a counter-proposal for significantly less money. And we don’t know what the final outcome will be.”

So in the meantime, Reiner says that the department will continue to focus on what the state’s current needs are.

“Our focus remains on maintaining the assets we have with available resources,” he said.

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Wyoming Will Re-Open 9 Of 10 Closed Rest Stops

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily 

It appears truckers and travelers will find relief more often when traveling through Wyoming this summer with the reopening of state rest stops closed last year in the face of budget cuts.

Governor Mark Gordon on Thursday announced that nine of the 10 closed rest stops would re-open — at least temporarily — for the duration of the 2021 tourist season.

 The nine rest areas include:

  • Lusk on US 18
  • Guernsey on US 26
  • Greybull on US 16
  • Moorcroft on I-90
  • Star Valley on US 89
  • Sundance on I-25
  • Upton on US 16
  • Orin Jct on I-25
  • Chugwater on I-25

“With the summer season just around the corner, I’m glad we will be able to reopen these facilities to travelers,” Governor Gordon said. “We are glad to have this chance to find a temporary solution.”

According to a news release, the Wyoming Department of Transporation (WYDOT), the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) along with the governor’s office will work together to secure a temporary federal funding source to allow the nine rest areas throughout the state to reopen. 

“WYDOT is extremely grateful to Governor Gordon and Director Shober for identifying new federal funds to temporarily reopen our rest areas for the tourist season,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner. 

The rest areas should reopen ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Before Gordon’s announcement, there were some developments pointing to the reopening of the rest stops.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation late last month called for bids for janitorial maintenance at nine of the 10 closed rest stops.

In addition, companies that have previously provided janitorial services for the closed rest stops reported they were contacted about submitting bids for the work again.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation in June of last year closed 10 of its 37 rest stops because of budget cuts implemented by Gordon. The closures were expected to save the state $200,000.Rest stops were closed in Star Valley, Chugwater, Greybull, Lusk, Orin Junction, Sundance, Upton, Fort Steele, Moorcroft and Guernsey.

Many of the closed rest areas were along heavily trafficked, yet undeveloped areas and roadways, including state highways passing through Lusk, Guernsey, Moorcroft, Upton and Star Valley as well as smaller cities dotting the I-80 and I-90 corridors such as Chugwater, Sundance, Fort Steele and Orin Junction. 

The move inconvenienced many drivers who were then forced to travel long distances between cities without access to public restrooms or a place to safely stop for the night.

LaCynda Fortik, an independent contractor that provided janitorial services for the Chugwater rest stop, said she was contacted within the past week about providing services again when the rest stop reopens.

Fortik said she was told the state obtained money to reopen the rest stops.

The calls for bids issued by the Department of Transportation mentioned providing services for all of the closed rest stops except Fort Steele near Rawlins.

Fortik said she was happy to hear that the rest areas will again be open after watching travelers stop to take bathroom breaks at the closed Chugwater rest stop and dump their garbage regardless of the lack of facilities or the chain-link barriers cutting off entry. 

“They just dumped their garbage and used the restroom wherever they wanted or could,” she said. “It was pretty disgusting.”

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Chief Joseph Scenic Byway Gets Facelift

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is the best state to visit for scenic vistas and wide open spaces. And the highways that let visitors take in those views provide some of the best sightseeing opportunities in the world.

But every once in a while, even the road to paradise needs some repairs.

And the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway northwest of Cody is nearing the end of an extensive repair effort.

About two years ago, a portion of the steep mountainside along the highway began sliding downhill and crews scrambled to make the road safe for travelers headed to either Red Lodge, Montana, or the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone.

It’s not been an easy task. 

Back in 2017, a portion of the hill on which switchbacks wind their way down to Sunlight Basin from Dead Indian Pass began sloughing, causing significant damage to the road also known as Wyoming Highway 296. A year later, that same area slipped, damaging the roadway further. 

In 2020, road crews were able to begin the reconstruction process, which will be finalized this month. That’s according to Cody Beers, public information specialist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“There will be some short delays through May,” Beers explained. “As the road is being built, it will be paved; and then in June, it will be chip sealed. And after that it should be wide open for travelers.”

The road hasn’t been completely closed since the slide began – highway officials have been able to keep at least one lane of traffic open safely to facilitate travelers who come to see the unbeatable views from the 8,070-foot summit of Dead Indian Pass. 

And the stretch of road that is being repaired is just two-tenths of one mile — although the price to fix it ($5.8 million) belies its length. 

Although the roadway damage hasn’t posed a danger to motorists, the construction job has seen its share of tragedy. In October of 2018, a construction worker drove his huge haul truck off the edge of the cliff, resulting in his death. An investigation by the Wyoming Highway Patrol revealed that the driver had abused methamphetamines prior to getting behind the wheel.

By the end of June, Beers said the highway will be back to “normal” for the first time in more than four years.

“There won’t be any major delays,” Beers predicted. “But people will be stopped at traffic signals – there will be traffic signals on each end. But 5-minute delays at the most.”

And Beers pointed out that if drivers have to be stopped for traffic delays, the top of Dead Indian Pass is not a bad place to pause.

“We encourage people to enjoy the scenery,” he said.

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Volvo-Driving Couple Get Stuck On Park County Highway After Driving Around “Road Closed” Sign

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

In Wyoming, spring doesn’t necessarily mean the snow is gone.

A couple driving a Volvo trying to get to Cooke City, Montana, found this out the hard way last week when their vehicle became stuck in the snow on the wrong side of a “road closed” sign in Park County.

Park County Search and Rescue was called out just after 8 p.m. on Monday, April 26, to respond to a report of a stranded vehicle stuck in the snow on Highway 212, just barely on the Wyoming side of the Wyoming/Montana line northwest of Cody.

According to Search and Rescue Coordinator Bill Brown, the couple in the car, a 60 year-old-male and 59 year-old-female, had traveled past the road closure sign in their Volvo XC90 attempting to get to Cooke City from Cody.

The couple was lucky — cell phone service is spotty on the road to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone, but they were able to get word out about their situation. 

Park County Search and Rescue, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement all responded to the scene.

Brown reminded travelers that traffic control signs are in place for a reason.

“Traffic control devices, even the temporary ones, are in place for safety purposes and should not be disregarded for any reason,” he commented, “especially a ‘road closed’ sign.” 

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Wyoming Toll Road Bill Dies Again; Will Be Studied During Interim

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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A controversial bill that could have generated funds for Wyoming highways has died in a legislative committee.

Senate File 73, which would have created a revenue stream to maintain the heavily-traveled interstate which runs from east to west across Wyoming, had passed the Senate in a 16-13 vote before being presented to the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs committee.

The committee, last week, voted to table the bill, effectively ending its viability in this year’s legislative session.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is facing a severe shortfall in funding, along with the rest of the state’s budgets. WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told Cowboy State Daily that their financing is not tied to the state’s general fund – so any revenue source carries significant weight.

“Our sources of revenue are primarily fuel tax, vehicle registration, and then the state does provide thankfully, an amount of federal mineral royalty severance taxes,” he said in an interview in March.

But those revenues don’t add up to enough to close a $354 million dollar funding gap – which could mean that future road projects and maintenance fall by the wayside, ultimately affecting the state’s economy.

“Everything we do in the state rides on our roads,” Reiner pointed out. “Everything we do goes from point A to point B, connecting communities, and improving the lives of our residents.”

The bill is designed, in its own language, to “provide for the financing, construction, operation, regulation and maintenance of interstate 80 under a tolled configuration.”

A study conducted more than 10 years ago showed that a typical section of I-80 in Wyoming had a traffic count of about 13,000 vehicles per day, with heavy trucks making up about half of that traffic. Traffic has continued to increase, with heavy truck volume alone projected to approach nearly 16,000 per day by 2037. And estimates showed then that maintaining I-80 in its present condition over the next 30 years would cost more than $6.4 billion – that’s after adjusting for inflation.

However, before the House Transportation committee even discussed the bill, a straw poll by the committee members halted the forward motion of the legislation. But the chair of the committee, Rep. Donald Burkhart Jr., R-Rawlins, encouraged Senator Cale Case (chair of the Senate Revenue Committee) to make his presentation to the members, despite their decision to table the bill.

“This is an important bill. It’s an important consideration,” Burkhart noted.

Senator Case pointed out that, like the majority of legislators in Wyoming, “I’m over in the senate voting for every cut that comes along,” and looking for ways to increase revenue. But he believes the toll bill could provide an important funding boost.

“Wyoming needs things set in motion,” he told the committee, “because from a revenue standpoint, we don’t have much to hang our hats on.”

And with the recent failure of the bill that would have increased the fuel tax, other funding sources such as the toll bill must be considered, according to Case.

“This tolling bill is a really significant tool that potentially can solve our problems with Interstate 80,” he said. “And free up a bunch of money to be distributed elsewhere in the state on our highway system.”

He encouraged the committee to “think big for a second, what it could accomplish.”

But the idea isn’t completely dead. At the end of the committee’s consideration on the topic, Chairman Burkhart noted that they will be looking hard at the idea in the interim.

“The bill is tabled, potentially pending a special session,” he announced, asking Senator Case to continue to work with the committee on this subject. 

Case agreed, adding, “We truly are in a desperate situation in Wyoming – we need to be proactive.”

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“Big Brother” Concerns Over Traffic Cameras Nearly Doom Teton Pass Bill

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It’s been a yo-yo for Senate File 3.

Originally, the bill was intended to help law enforcement — through the use of traffic cameras — catch truckers who illegally use Teton Pass.

Then it was expanded to allow the use of traffic cameras or “automated vehicle identification systems” to catch speeders in construction zones across the state– something the Wyoming Department of Transportation favored.

But it was brought back to its original form on Monday out of concern that the expanded legislation would ultimately fail.

At issue, according to Sen. Stephen Pappas, R-Cheyennne, were unfounded concerns that the legislation would encroach on peoples’ privacy.

“It’s sad to me that for political reasons we’re going to sacrifice safety just because of … folks who, frankly, don’t understand the bill. They haven’t ready the bill probably,” Pappas said on the Senate Floor.

He said misinformation in emails sent to legislators presented concerns that all Wyoming license plates were going to be scanned for “Big Brother.”

“There are just so many emails that aren’t accurate,” he said. “And for us to cave into this, to me, it’s a travesty.

“Because the intent of the bill is to get people in construction zones to slow down,” he continued. “That’s all. We’re not going to put red light cameras anywhere to find people.”

Pappas’ disappointment was echoed by Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Landen who said he was also upset with the inaccurate emails.

“My frustration rests with really where we are in our culture today,” Landen said. “Because there’s a lot of misinformation, and frankly nefarious emails which were flying around on this bill.”

“I’m sorry about that because there was some good purpose for the bill, but I think this gets us back to where we can make that a safe mountain pass,” he added.

Ultimately the legislation passed on third reading by a vote of 19 – 11. It will now head to the House for a review by representatives.

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Wyoming Wind Pushes Amazon Semi, Other Vehicles Off Interstate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming winds gusting more than 70 mph almost pushed an Amazon semi-trailer off of a bridge on Interstate 25 south of Chugwater on Monday.

The driver’s status was unknown as of Monday morning, as the Wyoming Department of Transportation noted on its social media that the Wyoming Highway Patrol was still investigating the incident.

The accident was one of several caused by strong winds, which forced the closure of Interstate 80 between Evanston and Laramie through most of Sunday and early Monday.

Central and southeastern Wyoming, from Cheyenne to Casper and west past Rawlins and nearly to Lander were under a high wind warning on Monday, with crosswinds of 60 to 80 mph possible until the late afternoon.

Interstate 25 southbound was closed near Wheatland after a semi-truck crashed and blocked lanes.

A wind warning was also in place for northwestern Wyoming, including Cody, while the area west of Dubois was under advisories for snow showers, slick roads and blowing snow.

U.S. Highway 30 between Granger and Laramie was also closed, as was U.S. Highway 287 between Rawlins and Laramie.

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Wyoming Department of Transportation: Stop Hitting the Snowplows

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is reminding drivers to be aware of snowplows after seeing 10 collisions involving the plows over a five-day period.

The strikes, which occurred from Feb. 11 to Tuesday, brought the total number of snowplows hit by other vehicles to 17 so far this winter season, which runs from October to May.

Most of the plows were struck from behind, resulting in minor damages and injuries. However, one incident involved a tractor trailer hitting the rear of the plow, which totaled both vehicles and injured the WYDOT plow driver, the department said.

“Because of one careless driver, there is one less plow and plow driver on Wyoming’s roadways,” WYDOT District 4 in northeast Wyoming said on its Facebook page.

In most cases, the vehicles striking the plows had to be towed from the highway, the department said.

Some of the recent weekend snowplow strikes occurred near Elk Mountain and Rawlins on Interstate 80, Interstate 25 near Cheyenne, I-25 near Wheatland, Chugwater and Douglas, on Wyoming Highway 120 south of Cody and on Wyoming Highway 28 near Farson.

On Saturday morning, a WYDOT plow truck south of Cody on Wyoming Highway 120 was hit from behind as the plow driver was parked in a mailbox turnout near the Park County maintenance shop. A truck sander was destroyed but no injuries were reported.

“We want to remind the public to be careful when driving around our plows during winter weather,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner. “Our drivers are out there maintaining the roads by clearing the snow and putting down materials to help keep traffic moving. We want all drivers to pay attention and be careful so everyone gets home safely.”

The number of strikes has fluctuated over the past few years, with 23 crashes recorded in the 2019-2020 winter season, eight crashes in 2018-2019, eight in 2017-2018, three in 2016-2017, seven in 2015-2016 and 13 in 2014-2015.

To avoid collisions, WYDOT officials urge motorists to pay attention, put down the distractions and drive cautiously.

Motorists should stay a safe distance, around the length of four vehicles, behind a plow until it is safe to pass. WYDOT’s snowplows typically travel at speeds of 25 to 45 mph, depending on conditions.

Motorists should never drive into an area of the road where they can’t see what’s in front of them.

“If a motorist sees a cloud of snow ahead of them when they are driving, there’s a good chance it is a snowplow,” Reiner said. “Do not drive into that cloud. Motorists should stay back and wait to pass. If a motorists sees the plow and they need to pass, they should do so only if they absolutely need to.”

Motorists should never pass a snowplow on the right side of a two-lane road, because the vehicle could be using its wing plow, a plow that sticks out from the side of a truck, and a motorist may end up colliding with that part.

“If you can’t see to safely pass, a plow driver probably can’t see you either,” Reiner said. “We are urging the public to use caution and have patience. The snowplow will pull over to let you pass when they are able to and when it is safe for both the snowplow driver and the motorist.”

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Huge Wreck Involving Truck Carrying Wind Turbine Blade and Cattle Hauler Perplexes Residents

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Although a multi-vehicle accident in Sundance, Wyoming, on Wednesday involving a semi-truck hauling a giant wind turbine blade another semi-truck hauling cattle and a pilot vehicle looked pretty serious, no one was hurt.

The accident occurred near the Wyoming-South Dakota port of entry.

Photos and videos showed one overturned truck, a small fire, and what appeared to be a burnt wind turbine blade piercing through the side of the cattle truck.

“There were no serious injuries or livestock harmed,” The Wyoming Department of Transportation said. “The scene has been cleared and all on and off ramps are open.  Thank you for your patience today.”

Speculation as to how the wreck happened ran rampant on Facebook.

“My guess is that the cattle truck was coming down the road, maybe icy, hit the blade in the front and the blade lifted up over the cab and dropped back down between and the pickup was just in the wrong damn place at the wrong time when it came down,” one person opined.

Another individual appeared perplexed:

“The cattle truck ‘hit’ the blade bit I’m just trying to figure out how… I mean, how do you not see a big ass blade being hauled by TWO semis with flags and pilot cars?” he said.

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Semi Flips On Wyoming Interstate; Drivers Lose Their Minds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A video posted to Facebook over the weekend shows why it’s important to heed the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s warnings about not driving during high wind warnings.

Steve LaFave, a Cheyenne resident, posted a video to his account on Sunday, after he and a friend drove behind multiple semi-trailers during a high wind warning this weekend.

The two appear to be driving south on Interstate 25, heading into Colorado.

During the two-minute and sometimes expletive-filled video, the men are following behind one particular truck that continues to try and resist the gale-force winds attempting to push it off the road.

Instead of taking the hint and pulling over, the driver continues to fight against nature, the battle finally culminating in the truck flipping over on the interstate. Another semi driving not far behind the fallen truck has to maneuver quickly to avoid hitting it.

“It’s like he’s oblivious too,” the guys say before the truck flips. “What a [expletive] idiot. I’m driving around this [expletive], I ain’t waiting around for this [expletive].”

The men do stop to check on the driver, but the video ends before there was any word from him.

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Interstate 80 Between Cheyenne and Rawlins Closed Due to Weather and Accidents

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Photo credit: Terry Butler

If it doesn’t seem that long ago that Interstate 80 was closed due to inclement weather, it’s because it hasn’t been that long ago. 

Last year, in fact, the state hit a record for the number of times I-80 was closed down due to Mother Nature. 

And she struck again today.

On Sunday afternoon, portions of the most-infamous part of Interstate 80 were closed due to winter-like weather and a series of accidents.

“10 semis and at least five cars and trucks are in a pileup wreck,” Terry Butler wrote on the Facebook page Wyoming Road and Weather Condition Updates. “There are at least 300 semis and vehicles behind them.”

Butler was referring to an accident that occurred east of Cheyenne near Burns.

Here’s the latest:

I-80 between Cheyenne and Rawlins (both directions are closed) and the estimated reopening time is 18-20 hours.

If you are stuck, hopefully you have fuel, warm clothes, boots, Internet access, food, something to drink, seats that fully recline, an iPad, and a Netflix account. 

Ideally, you would be driving in an RV.  That way, you could take a shower, cook a turkey, stretch out on the couch, and watch NFL Red Zone. RV is the way to go.

I-80 eastbound between Creston Junction and Rawlins due to rolling closure. No estimates on that reopening.

I-80 westbound between Pine Bluffs and Cheyenne due to crash. No estimates on reopening time.

US 30/287 between Bosler and Walcott Junction. This is a rough stretch of road weather-wise. If you are stuck here, hunker down. Your estimated reopening time 18-20 hours.

US 287 south of Laramie (estimated reopening time unknown).

The winter storm is impacting travel throughout the region, with strong winds and blowing snow making for very limited visibility.

No unnecessary travel on I-25 or mountain passes like WYO 70 through Battle Pass or WYO 130 through the Snowy Range.

If all of this is making you wonder why Interstate 80 was built where it was, check out this interesting article.

And you can check here for the latest road conditions.

For latest road conditions, go to wyoroad.info, download the 511 app or call 511.

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Wyoming “Off-Track” When It Comes To Road Safety, Mental Health

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is off-track when it comes to roadway safety and mental health services, a recent National Safety Council summary concluded.

In the NSC’s state of the response executive summary, the organization analyzed how well the 50 states protected their citizens during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The report assessed state efforts in five key areas: employer guidelines, testing, contact tracing, mental health and substance use and roadway safety.

Wyoming was considered one of the 10 off-track states, which also included Florida, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Mississippi and South Dakota received the lowest overall rating.

Wyoming also was singled out as being off-track when it came to roadway safety (alongside Montana, both of the Dakotas and Massachusetts) and for addressing mental health issues (alongside other states such as South Dakota, Alabama, South Carolina and Kansas).

Only 12 states received an “on-track” rating, which included California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois. The other 29 states were considered “lagging.”

Although the pandemic has claimed more lives than accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle collisions and falls combined, the state of response report uncovered “an inconsistent approach that has jeopardized safety due to the pandemic’s impact on issues such as addiction, traffic and workplace safety.

The NSC provided recommendations for states to improve their scores, such as ensuring access to medically-necessary treatments, including the availability of behavioral health services and substance use disorder treatment through telehealth and continuing focus on improving the safety of roads.

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UW Bus Facility To Get Upgrade With $4.2M Federal Grant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Federal Transit Authority will award $4.2 million in transit infrastructure funding to improve the safety and reliability of Laramie’s bus systems and enhance mobility for transit riders, U.S. Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao announced Tuesday.

According to a news release, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, on behalf of the University of Wyoming, will receive $4.2 million to construct a new maintenance and storage facility in Laramie. The new facility will replace an obsolete one that is more than 70-years-old, improve maintenance activities and ensure a good state of repair among UW transit services vehicles.

“This administration is committed to rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure even through the current COVID-19 crisis, and this $464 million in federal grants will help improve the safety and reliability of transit bus service nationwide as the economy returns,” said Chao in the release.

Demand for FTA’s grants for buses and bus facilities program far exceeded available funds, as FTA received 282 applications totaling approximately $1.8 billion in funding requests from 51 states and territories.

“Millions of Americans rely on public transportation to access healthcare, jobs, and other vital services,” said FTA Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams in the release. “During this unprecedented time, we need to ensure access and mobility for the riders who depend on our nation’s bus systems.”

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Union Pacific Train Catches Fire Near Rock Springs

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 Transportation/Coronavirus
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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

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Gov Gordon Budget
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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.

27 Car Pile-Up Closes Interstate 80 East Of Laramie, Wyoming

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Another big pile-up on Interstate 80 in southeast Wyoming kept the highway closed in both directions on Friday.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol said the series of accidents involved over 27 vehicles — 23 of which were commercial trucks.

The accident occurred this morning at 10:18am in the eastbound lanes east of Laramie.

A highway patrolman pulled over to check on a commercial truck stuck in the roadway. As the trooper was speaking with the driver, another vehicle ran into the back of the stopped truck. This caused several other drivers to lose control of their vehicles and crash.

No fatalities have been reported from this pile-up but injured parties were taken to Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie. Earlier this month, three people were killed when more than 100 vehicles were involved in a series of accidents on Interstate 80 near Wamsutter, Wyoming.

If the amount of closures seem high this year, you’re not imagining things.

The number of times the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) closes Interstates 80 varies each winter season, which is measured from October to May, but the 2019-2020 season has already broken five-year records, according to information provided by Luke Reiner, WYDOT director 

“Our goal is not to close roads,” Reiner said. “Over 50 percent of the traffic on I-80 is heavy trucks, and 90 percent of those are passing through. When we close the roads, we inhibit the flow of those commodities.”

WYDOT to Work With Highway Patrol to Make Sure COVID-19-Related Supplies Get Through

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The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) announced it will work with the Wyoming Highway Patrol to ensure COVID-19-related supplies are delivered despite any blizzard conditions which could hit the state.

“In the event of a road closure, our maintenance crews and the Wyoming Highway Patrol will work with officials to ensure COVID-19-related supplies get through. We will do everything in our power to ensure these vital supplies get to their communities,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner. 

Health officials or suppliers needing assistance transporting COVID-19-related materials or supplies on a closed road are asked to contact Patrol Dispatch at (307) 777-4321.

According to Wyoming’s weatherman, Don Day, the roughest activity will happen in southeastern Wyoming.

“Southeastern Wyoming and the I-80 corridor will have really nasty windy icy conditions today and tonight,” Day said. “The heaviest stuff, however, will fall south of the border.”

“Wind is going to be a problem,” he said. “Along Interstate 80, we will see winds between 30 – 40mph and higher. Along I-25 in southern Wyoming, we will see high winds too.

Day said high winds will occur along I-80 in Sweetwater and Carbon counties as well.

People Killed in I-80 Wrecks Identified

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The three people killed in Sunday’s massive accidents on Interstate 80 west of Rawlins all died in accidents that occurred in the interstate’s westbound lanes, the Wyoming Highway Patrol announced Thursday.

Patrol officials, in a news release, also reduced the number of vehicles involved in the two wrecks, which occurred just a few miles from each other, from more than 100 to about 70.

The patrol identified those