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Renewing Your Driver’s License During a Pandemic

in Transportation/Coronavirus

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyoming Residents Have 90-Day Window to Renew Expired Licenses

in News/Transportation/Coronavirus
Gov Gordon Budget

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

in News/Transportation

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

in News/Transportation/Coronavirus

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

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

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 ( 

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,, 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

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

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

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

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.”

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