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Rancher Videos 2,600 Sheep Crossing Bridge By Drone

in News/Transportation/Agriculture
4614

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
4548

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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 News/Transportation/Coronavirus
4038

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18-Wheeler Plunges into North Platte River Near Ft. Steele, Wyoming

in News/Transportation
4021
Reeling in the Big One

The painstakingly slow process of reeling in the water logged CRST tractor trailer begins Thursday afternoon — more than eight hours after the commercial truck entered the North Platte River. Professional tow truck operators from Pronghorn Towing and Recovery had to stop several times in order to clear debris and level the earth along the embankment. The slow and steady pace was necessary to ensure the trailer didn’t tip over in the strong current. Bigfoot 99 has the story this morning. Video by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99

Posted by Bigfoot99 – KTGA 99.3 FM Saratoga/Rawlins, WY on Friday, April 10, 2020

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Well, this is something — thankfully — you don’t see everyday.

A semi-truck driver on Thursday, who apparently fell asleep at the wheel, drove his truck into the North Platte River near Fort Steele.

The good news is that the driver and his passenger escaped the ordeal with only minor injuries. The bad news is, well, he drove his truck into the river.

According to a news release, the Wyoming Highway Patrol was dispatched to the area at 5:38 a.m. Thursday morning and spotted the vehicle in the river.

Carbon County Search and Rescue and the Wyoming Game and Fish also responded to the scene. 

Carbon County Search and Rescue used their boat to help retrieve the passengers from the truck.

The Wyoming Game and Fish and Carbon County Fire Department worked to contain any hazardous material leaking from the truck.           

The driver was cited for failing to maintain his lane of travel. 

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Renewing Your Driver’s License During a Pandemic

in Transportation/Coronavirus
3804

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
3589

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
3473

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
3439

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.”

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