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

in Coronavirus/News/Transportation
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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

in News/Transportation
3261

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 killed as Deborah Carrel, 53, of Marshall, Michigan, Emman Ojiaka, 64, of Denton, Texas, and Kian Kennedy, 27, of Hampton, Georgia.

The accidents first reported Sunday afternoon, combined with winter road conditions, forced the closure of much of the interstate between Laramie and Rock Springs for two days.

According to the Highway Patrol, about 30 vehicles, most of them commercial vehicles, were involved in the crash in the interstate’s westbound lanes near Creston Junction, about 26 miles west of Rawlins.

The patrol said Carrel was a passenger in a Toyota Highlander that was struck by a commercial motor vehicle.

Ojiaka and Kennedy were both drivers of commercial vehicles.

The accident in the eastbound lanes of the highway involved about 40 vehicles. About 30 people were injured and were treated at Carbon County Memorial Hospital.

The patrol said driving too fast for road conditions and following to closely are being investigated as the likely causes of the crashes.

“Roadways were very icy with snowfall and blowing snow creating limited visibility at the time of the crashes,” the release said.

Early estimates had put the number of vehicles involved in the accidents at more than 100.

“Due to the dynamics of the crash scene, some vehicles were initially counted that were not part of any crash,” the release said. “As the investigation progressed, the total number of vehicles involved decreased.”

Interstate 80 Closed a Record Amount of Times This Year (And We’ve Got 2 Months To Go)

in News/Transportation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Advances in technology are helping improve the quality of information the Wyoming Department of Transportation uses to decide on road closures, but the final decision is still in the hands of people actually on the roads, the department’s director said.

“We only close the roads for two reasons: visibility and crashes,” said Luke Reiner, WYDOT director and a retired U.S. Army Major General. “There is no road closure decision made at headquarters. Those decisions are made by the boots on the ground.”

The number of times WYDOT closes Interstates 80, 90 and 25 varies each winter season, which is measured from October-May, but the 2019-2020 season is already breaking five-year records, according to information provided by WYDOT.

So far, I-80 was closed 55 times since October, WYDOT reported. The previous high for I-80 was 54 closures during the 2015-2016 winter season, and the five-year low was 34 closures during the 2017-2018 season. 

Both I-90 and I-25 experienced similar arcs. 

I-90 was closed nine times this season, with its previous five-year high set at eight closures during the 2018-2019 and 2016-2017 seasons. 

With 18 closures on I-25 so far this season, it’s on a path to break its five-year high of 19 closures in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, WYDOT reported.

“According to our meteorologists, our storms started earlier this year than in previous years,” Reiner said. “This year, we have had snowfall in December, January and February, which is really not typical for us.” 

In the last decade, WYDOT has adapted its approach to closing roads by using an in-house meteorologist, weather-prediction technology, road sensors and new closure philosophies. 

But Reiner said the most important component in a closure decision remains the troopers and highway maintenance crews operating on Wyoming’s roads.

“The job at WYDOT is to keep these roads as absolutely safe as we can,” he said. “We execute that role through the men and women working in the field and making these (closure) calls.”

Weighing the impacts

Every hour I-80 is closed, the private trucking industry loses about about $1 million, Reiner said. 

“Our goal is not to close roads,” he 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.”

The Wyoming Trucking Association did not respond to several requests for comment. 

Reiner said every road closure negatively affects the flow of commercial goods, which ripples through the state’s economy.

“Additionally, closures have a negative effect on transportation to schools and work,” he added. 

Because closures impact so many areas of Wyoming life, Highway Patrol Col. Kebin Haller said troopers and WYDOT staff avoid making closure decisions in a vacuum.

“We have veteran troopers out there who have worked that stretch of road for many years,” Haller explained. “And we also have rookies. Recognizing the significance of these decisions, our troopers talk to WYDOT maintenance staff, the dispatch center and the traffic management center before making the call.”

Additionally, the troopers run the decision by their first-line supervisor, he said.

“We also have the benefit of experience and can review the benefits of closing the road in the past and benefits of decisions not to close the road,” Haller said. “We do not take these decisions lightly.”

As part of the information used in making the closure decision, WYDOT Operations Chief Mark Gillett said the department collects road temperature data via environmental sensors, or Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS). 

Depending on the type of sensors at a site, RWIS can provide information regarding air, surface and subsurface temperature, relative humidity, average wind speed, wind gust and wind direction, visibility, and surface conditions, WYDOT reported.

WYDOT uses 94 RWIS stations statewide.

“We do use technology to help us determine when best to close a road,” Gillett said. “But, ultimately, we do not close the road because of those technologies. Those decisions are made by folks in the storm.” 

Eyes on the road

Wind direction and unsafe driving habits play some of the most significant roles in winter accidents and the road closures that follow, Haller said.

“Distracted driving continues to be an ongoing concern,” he said. “You can drive anywhere and look to the vehicle to your left or right, and they are often paying more attention to a handheld device than to the road.” 

Crash site investigations revealed distracted driving reduces response time, which hampers the ability of drivers to avoid accidents on icy roads and in low-visibility situations, Haller explained.

As far as blowing snow, however, wind directions have shifted in recent years, nullifying some of the state’s preventive measures.

“Wind coming out of the north is something we’ve seen on I-80 recently, and this has created some severe visibility problems,” Haller said. “We don’t have snow fences on the north side of I-80. They are on the south, where the wind has typically come from.”

Reiner said additional snow fencing is on WYDOT’s list of budget priorities, but the department — like many state agencies — is doing more with less in recent years (https://cowboystatedaily.com/2020/01/30/wyo-highway-maintenance-costs-semi-trucks-extremely-hard-on-highways/). 

As the number of closures rises, WYDOT is also using technology to help drivers navigate interruptions in their travel routes.

The 511 app and Wyoroad website, www.wyoroad.info, keep users informed on up-to-date road conditions and closures. And the WYDOT Authorized Travel (WAT) program allows authorized travelers to travel on sections of otherwise closed roads when authorities determine it is safe to do so. 

Information for the WAT program is located on the Wyoroad website under the WAT icon.

“We’ve got lots of tools in the toolbox, and the goal is to use the right tool to keep the road open,” Reiner said. “The closure of the road is a last resort.”

Interstate 80 Remains Closed as WHP Continues Cleanup

in News/Transportation
Interstate 80
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Much of Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to Rock Springs remained closed Tuesday morning as the Wyoming Highway Patrol continued its work to remove wreckage from two enormous accidents that occurred Sunday.

The work was made more difficult by strong winds and blowing snow that also contributed to the highway’s closure, said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Beck.

“I know they’re getting closer to clearing some of the debris so possibly we can get a lane open later today,” he said. “They shut down operations last night because of winter conditions.”

Three people died in the two separate accidents west of Rawlins, one involving an estimated 80 to 100 vehicles and the other involving 30 to 40. The names of the people killed in the wrecks have not been released.

As of Tuesday morning, some short stretches of I80 between Cheyenne and Rock Springs were open, but the majority of the road was closed because of the wrecks and continuing winter driving conditions.

Although eastbound lanes of the interstate from Laramie to the Nebraska border were open Tuesday morning, both lanes were closed from Laramie to Rawlins.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated most of the highway would be open Tuesday afternoon.

Interstate 80 Toll Road Bill Dies Quick Death

in News/Transportation
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If you were worried about Interstate 80 turning into a toll road, put those worries to bed.

A bill that could have eventually turned the oftentimes treacherous 403 mile stretch into a toll road was killed on Tuesday — failing to receive enough votes in the Senate for introduction.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) was the primary sponsor of the bill. Von Flatern told Cowboy State Daily in September that without tolling, the State of Wyoming won’t have adequate funds to keep roads maintained.

“We’re losing ground on our roads,” he said in September. “We’re not improving them at all. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition.”

“We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage cuts anymore without cutting services completely and turning many of our roads into dirt roads,” he said.

Interview with Sen. Michael Von Flatern

WYDOT Spends 30% of Budget to Keep Wyoming Roads Clear During Winter

in News/Transportation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining Wyoming’s roads through the winter is costly and complicated by high elevations, but innovation and preparation help the state keep ahead of the weather, a Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesperson said.

“As soon as you enter Wyoming, you start to climb in altitude,” WYDOT Public Affairs Manager Doug McGee said. “Especially with Interstate 80, it’s essentially a 400-mile-long winter pass. The entire stretch is above 6,000 feet in elevation.”

WYDOT expects to spend about $28 million on winter road maintenance — about 30 percent of its annual budget — in fiscal year 2020, which began in July 2019, said WYDOT Chief Engineer Shelby Carlson. 

In 2015, WYDOT’s winter maintenance costs were about $21 million, but between 2016 and 2020, the costs have fluctuated between $26 million and 32 million annually.

“We’ve had some pretty major storms in these last years,” Carlson said. “It all just depends on the levels of moisture we get. During drought years, the costs are lower.” 

Aging equipment and increased interstate traffic are also contributing factors, she added.


RELATED VIDEO: Watch WYDOT Clear Snowy Range Road

Know when to hold ‘em

WYDOT annually maintains about 6,700 centerline miles, a road measurement that includes all lanes in a single stretch of pavement.

Interstates 80, 25 and 90 account for about 900 centerline miles.

According to WYDOT documents, the majority of 2020’s winter maintenance costs are nearly evenly split between labor, budgeted for $9 million, materials, budgeted for $8.6 million, and equipment, budgeted for $9.6 million. Contractor services and miscellaneous costs are budgeted at about $755,000.

“We have a lot of snow plows, tow plows and rotaries to help us clear the roads,” Carlson said. “And we use chemicals, sand and liquids to remove the ice and snow.”

In all, the state owns 400 conventional snow plows, 18 rotary plows and seven tow plows, a trailer-mounted plow towed behind a plow truck, she said.

However, WYDOT Director Luke Reiner, a retired U.S. Army Maj. General, said keeping Wyoming’s roads safe isn’t just about manpower and equipment.

“Part of keeping those roads open is knowing when to close them,” Reiner explained. “We’ve learned the hard way over many years that preemptively closing roads to allow our crews to get in there and do the work saves lives.”

Closing Wyoming’s major thoroughfares for any reason costs transport companies millions of dollars by the hour, but Reiner said WYDOT discovered closing the roads as soon as a storm hits can reduce overall closure times.

“The road is closed for a shorter time, because there’s no crashes to clear,” he said. 

Beet juice and barn wood

Plows might be WYDOT’s most recognizable snow-removal method, but the department uses a variety of other strategies to combat winter conditions, Carlson said.

“Our materials costs include salt and sand, salt-brine solution, magnesium chloride and beet juice among other things,” she said.

While some de-icers like salt-brine solution freeze at 6 degrees below zero, WYDOT’s beet juice solution doesn’t freeze until the temperature reaches 26 below zero.

“It’s a byproduct of the sugar beet processing we have here in the state,” Carlson said. “And it’s more ecologically friendly than some other solutions.”

WYDOT also uses snow fences to prevent drifting in high wind areas.

“A snow fence is constructed of wood and set perpendicular to the wind to break up wind turbulence, causing the snow to deposit at the fence,” Carlson said.  

The fences, typically 10 to 12 feet tall have been used by WYDOT since 1971. Depending on the fence pattern, the fences can cost $400-600 per panel, but maintenance pays for itself.

“Because there is a market for weathered wood, we have contractors pay us to maintain the fences,” Carlson said.

Contractors pay the department to replace the fencing’s old planks with new ones, so they can sell the weathered planks to the growing “barn wood” market.

The state owns nearly 450 miles of snow fence, but Reiner said WYDOT is looking to increase that mileage.

“We’d like more,” Reiner said. 

Carlson added, “A whole lot more.”

Sections of Interstate 80 in Wyoming Closed Due to Multiple Accidents

in News/Transportation
2883

More accidents on Interstate 80 on Friday morning has led the to closure of the Interstate between Laramie and Cheyenne.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation reported that the accidents occurred near milepost 331.

Courtesy: Wyoming Highway Patrol

More than 20 vehicles reportedly were involved in the accidents and injuries were reported.

As of 8am, the estimated opening time for the section of the road is between 10 – 12 hours.

WYDOT and the Wyoming Highway Patrol are diverting eastbound traffic onto the westbound lane to clear the area.

Winter weather is impacting other parts of the interstate. I-80 is closed eastbound between Rock Springs and Rawlins due to winter conditions. The estimated opening time is unknown.

Meanwhile, looking at screenshots from WYDOT’s web cameras — which you can access here — the closed section of Interstate 80 looks like a ghost town without a vehicle to be seen (except one).

Along I-80 between Elk Mountain and Laramie, I-80 is closed to light, high profile vehicles due to gusting winds.

“Update on the crash involving multiple vehicles on Interstate 80, the Wyoming Highway Patrol tweeted at 10:04am. “Emergency crews are beginning to transport drivers and passengers involved in the crash and who are not injured back to Laramie, Wyoming.”

Wyo Highway Maintenance Costs: Semi-Trucks Extremely Hard on Highways

in News/Transportation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining roads is costly business, but it’s made costlier by fluctuating oil prices and increased semi-truck traffic, a Wyoming Department of Transportation official said.

“The costliest factor in road maintenance is taking care of the surface over time,” WYDOT Director Luke Reiner said. “The biggest impact on a road surface is the vehicle traffic, specifically trucks.”

While estimates vary, Reiner said every source agrees semi-trucks are extremely hard on highways.

“In comparing the effect of a truck on a road to a car, I’ve heard a lot of numbers,” he explained. “The estimate range is anywhere from one truck equals 380 cars to one truck equals 4,000 cars.”

The difference between a semi-truck and a car is so stark, the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials doesn’t even include non-truck traffic in its road damage projections, Reiner added.

With about 6,800 miles, measured by individual lanes, to maintain in Wyoming, weather conditions also account for a significant portion of the agency’s maintenance budget.


RELATED VIDEO: Why Interstate 80 Should be a Toll Road

WYDOT Chief Engineer Shelby Carlson said of the $80 million the agency spends annually on road maintenance, about $27.7 million is spent solely on snow removal.

“That includes labor, sand, salt, chemicals — all of it,” Carlson explained.

In addition to making travel difficult, weather does a number on the road surfaces.

“The toughest time for us with Interstate 80 is in the spring,” Carlson said. “The frost is coming out of the ground. We’re getting a lot of rain. The heavy trucks are still going over it all, and our subgrade starts to get soft.”

At about 400 linear miles long and accounting for about 1,600 lane miles, I-80 is nearly one-quarter of all WYDOT’s highway miles.

Added together and averaged out, WYDOT spends about $11,800 per lane mile in maintenance. But, Carlson said if you break out I-80 and average its maintenance by mile, the agency spends about $29,800 per lane mile on I-80 alone, or nearly 60 percent of the agency’s maintenance budget.

In recent years, those costs have gone up — in part, due to higher volumes of truck traffic.

“When we look at I-80, nearly 70 percent of all traffic is trucks,” Reiner said.

In a report submitted to Legislature, WYDOT found semi-truck traffic on I-80 increased by more than 150 percent during the last three decades.

Truckers pay significant usage fees through higher registration fees, opting into the International Fuel Tax Agreement or paying outright at the ports of entry. But even as Wyoming’s Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Joint Committee considers a funding task force and I-80 toll road, some legislators worry it will be too little, too late.


RELATED VIDEO: Why Interstate 80 Should Not be a Toll Road

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said legislators could also consider a fuel tax hike next spring, but there are no guarantees it would cover the rising costs of highway maintenance into the future.

While more wheels means more damage over time, WYDOT Assistant Chief Engineer Mark Gillett said oil prices also play a role in rising maintenance costs.

“Generally, asphalt cement, for lack of a better term, the tar sticky stuff, is a byproduct of refineries,” Gillett said. “Its price varies just like your gasoline (prices) varies. We have to deal with the ups and downs of the petrol market.”

In fact, the price fluctuates so often, he said WYDOT instituted a pay factor into its maintenance contracts, allowing contractors to bid jobs at the current cost of oil.

“If the cost of asphalt cement goes up by the time they purchase it and place it, we pay that difference,” Gillett explained.

Throughout the years, refineries have improved their processing methods, making for cleaner outputs as well as reducing the quality of their byproducts.

“Put simply, our asphalt isn’t as good as it used to be,” Gillett said.

A new surface laid by WYDOT in 2019 is expected to last about 20 years, but Carlson said if the agency can’t fund regular repairs, that life expectancy could be cut short.

“At about year 15, the road starts to degrade pretty quickly,” she said. “Then, you have about a two-year window to catch it before it dips down into really poor condition.”

No matter how much maintenance is poured into a road, however, it will still need to be rebuilt at some point.

“That’s what’s coming at us right now,” Carlson said. “We’re about $135 million short a year — that’s department wide, all operations — of that about $72 million is pavement. That’s just to keep the roads in their current condition. So, we’re falling behind.”

DOT continues work to stop falling rock on highway near Cody

in News/Transportation
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Department of Transportation is continuing its work to stabilize falling rock that has created a hazard for several years on a highway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

The department has been working since 2017 to stop rock from falling from steep hillsides onto U.S. Highway 14-16-20.

While the project has been expensive, it has been necessary for the safety of travelers in Wyoming, said Cody Beers, a spokesman for the DOT.

“We’ve been working in this area for a couple of years,” he said. “We kept finding more rockfall situations. We had to do some redesign. A lot of money was spent here, but it was about saving lives.”

The project was marked earlier this year by the death of a worker who was hit by a rock, Beers said.

“Through the history of this road, there’s been three or four different projects that have taken place,” he said. “And we have lost human life on every project that we’ve done on this section of road.”

Similar work is being done on the Chief Joseph Highway and the Wind River Canyon. Beers said the end result will be a safer highway system.

“We believe that the last couple projects over the last couple years that we’ve been doing have significantly upgraded the safety of this area, for residents, for travelers,” he said.

Trucks, oil prices take heavy toll on state’s highway maintenance budget

in News/Transportation
Federal bill would help Wyoming’s highway maintenance
2178

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining roads is costly business, but it’s made costlier by fluctuating oil prices and increased semi-truck traffic, a Wyoming Department of Transportation official said.

“The costliest factor in road maintenance is taking care of the surface over time,” WYDOT Director Luke Reiner said. “The biggest impact on a road surface is the vehicle traffic, specifically trucks.”

Related: Federal bill would help with highway maintenance

While estimates vary, Reiner said every source agrees semi-trucks are extremely hard on highways.

“In comparing the effect of a truck on a road to a car, I’ve heard a lot of numbers,” he explained. “The estimate range is anywhere from one truck equals 380 cars to one truck equals 4,000 cars.”

The difference between a semi-truck and a car is so stark, the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials doesn’t even include non-truck traffic in its road damage projections, Reiner added.

With about 6,800 miles, measured by individual lanes, to maintain in Wyoming, weather conditions also account for a significant portion of the agency’s maintenance budget.

WYDOT Chief Engineer Shelby Carlson said of the $80 million the agency spends annually on road maintenance, about $27.7 million is spent solely on snow removal.

“That includes labor, sand, salt, chemicals — all of it,” Carlson explained.

In addition to making travel difficult, weather does a number on the road surfaces.

“The toughest time for us with Interstate 80 is in the spring,” Carlson said. “The frost is coming out of the ground. We’re getting a lot of rain. The heavy trucks are still going over it all, and our subgrade starts to get soft.”

At about 400 linear miles long and accounting for about 1,600 lane miles, I-80 is nearly one-quarter of all WYDOT’s highway miles.

Added together and averaged out, WYDOT spends about $11,800 per lane mile in maintenance. But, Carlson said if you break out I-80 and average its maintenance by mile, the agency spends about $29,800 per lane mile on I-80 alone, or nearly 60 percent of the agency’s maintenance budget.In recent years, those costs have gone up — in part, due to higher volumes of truck traffic.

“When we look at I-80, nearly 70 percent of all traffic is trucks,” Reiner said.

In a report submitted to Legislature, WYDOT found semi-truck traffic on I-80 increased by more than 150 percent during the last three decades.

Truckers pay significant usage fees through higher registration fees, opting into the International Fuel Tax Agreement or paying outright at the ports of entry. But even as Wyoming’s Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Joint Committee considers a funding task force and I-80 toll road, some legislators worry it will be too little, too late.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said legislators could also consider a fuel tax hike next spring, but there are no guarantees it would cover the rising costs of highway maintenance into the future.

Related: Fuel taxes pale in light of future electric travel.

While more wheels means more damage over time, WYDOT Assistant Chief Engineer Mark Gillett said oil prices also play a role in rising maintenance costs.

“Generally, asphalt cement, for lack of a better term, the tar sticky stuff, is a byproduct of refineries,” Gillett said. “Its price varies just like your gasoline (prices) varies. We have to deal with the ups and downs of the petrol market.”

In fact, the price fluctuates so often, he said WYDOT instituted a pay factor into its maintenance contracts, allowing contractors to bid jobs at the current cost of oil.

“If the cost of asphalt cement goes up by the time they purchase it and place it, we pay that difference,” Gillett explained.

Throughout the years, refineries have improved their processing methods, making for cleaner outputs as well as reducing the quality of their byproducts.

“Put simply, our asphalt isn’t as good as it used to be,” Gillett said.

A new surface laid by WYDOT in 2019 is expected to last about 20 years, but Carlson said if the agency can’t fund regular repairs, that life expectancy could be cut short.

“At about year 15, the road starts to degrade pretty quickly,” she said. “Then, you have about a two-year window to catch it before it dips down into really poor condition.”

No matter how much maintenance is poured into a road, however, it will still need to be rebuilt at some point.

“That’s what’s coming at us right now,” Carlson said. “We’re about $135 million short a year — that’s department wide, all operations — of that about $72 million is pavement. That’s just to keep the roads in their current condition. So, we’re falling behind.”

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