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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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