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Transportation

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

in Interstate 80/News/Road Closure/Transportation
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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

in Health care/News/Transportation
File photo
File photo.
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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

in News/Transportation
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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

in News/Transportation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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WYDOT To Close 10 Rest Areas To Cut Costs

in Economy/News/Transportation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in News/Transportation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Men Killed In Semi Collision Near Laramie

in News/Transportation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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Rancher Videos 2,600 Sheep Crossing Bridge By Drone

in Agriculture/News/Transportation
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WYDOT Data Shows Big Drop In Wyoming Traffic

in Coronavirus/News/Transportation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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