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To vet Wyoming vanity plates, WYDOT consults Urban Dictionary

in News/Transportation
Wyoming Vanity Plates
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The average English-speaking American adult has a 42,000 -word vocabulary. But the state employees who vet submissions for vanity Wyoming license plates have been exposed to thousands more. 

L0RDY. GTF0

The combination of up to five letters, numbers and spaces allowed on vanity plates never ceases to inspire the imaginations of Wyoming drivers. 

Some vanity plate requests are so immature they’re LAAME. Others are RCST, PERV or make references to DRUGS. And some are so graphic, their associated imagery is FDUP and can make UPUKE.

0HEL.

When applicants request a vanity plate, the Wyoming Department of Transportation makes it clear: “Any combination that spells, connotes, abbreviates, or otherwise stands for language that is obscene, vulgar, indecent, or pruriently suggestive will not be allowed,” according to the application form. 5H1T.

To ensure a smutty or otherwise inappropriate request doesn’t sneak through, the WYDOT’s Motor Vehicle Services staffers cover their BUTTS a few ways. 

The division maintains a list of 3,255 words – and growing – that employees can cross reference if a request’s meaning isn’t obvious. All of NSFW words capitalized in this story can be found on that list.

The staffers can also search online, including on Urban Dictionary, said Debbie Lopez, the WYDOT Motor Vehicle Services manager.

When applying for a vanity plate, the WYDOT form asks for the meaning behind the requested combination. 

After all, one person’s CRAP could be another person’s nickname. “If the customer has a meaning for their combination that doesn’t make sense–for example, if customer wants a random four- to five-letter word and says it is the initials of four or five of their friends, we will check the word/acronym against sources on the internet, like Urban Dictionary,” Lopez said. If the person issuing the plate has reservations about a request, the question will be put to a team of Motor Vehicle Services staffers who will research the issue and offer opinions. If no resolution can be reached, the plate goes to Lopez for approval or denial.

At any given time, Lopez says there are about 20,000 to 25,000 vanity plates on the road. That means employees are constantly vigilant when reviewing applications. People’s minds aren’t exactly climbing out of the gutter.  “Because of all the texting acronyms, the process is becoming more work-intensive,” she said. 

DAMN. 

Analysis: Who Uses the Wyoming State Plane the Most?

in Government spending/News/Transportation
Wyoming state plane
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s two twin-engine passenger jets — nicknamed “Wyoming’s Air Force” — spend most of their time ferrying state officials around Wyoming, but about 10 percent of the flights leave the state, according to state records.

“I don’t know the background of all the flights that are flown out of state,” said Brian Olsen, the Wyoming Department of Transportation aeronautics division administrator. “It could be cheaper (than driving), but I think a lot of it could have to do with scheduling.”

Although the planes are maintained by WYDOT, Olsen explained each state agency can use them.

“We submit two reports to our Transportation Commission, detailing how many flights the planes took and (which agency) used them,” he said.

However, WYDOT does not keep track of the reasons for the trips taken by other agencies.

Olsen said he was not aware of a specific organization or committee charged with overseeing who uses the planes for what.

Previously, Cowboy State Daily reported the jets cost about $1 million to operate and maintain each year and made 663 trips carrying 2,213 passengers during fiscal year 2018. WYDOT reported about 12 percent of those flights were out-of-state.

In fiscal year 2017, the two planes logged a total of 725 one-way legs and 2,294 passengers with about 10 percent of those flights leaving the state. During fiscal year 2016, they completed 852 legs carrying 2,604 passengers and about 10 percent of flights left the state.

The numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 do not accurately reflect the planes’ usage, however, WYDOT spokesperson J. O’Brien said.

If members from two agencies board the same flight, WYDOT records the trip as two legs instead of one. Also, the passenger numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 include flight and maintenance crew, which are not typically considered passengers. WYDOT listed nearly 30 categories of users for each of the three years, during all of which the department was the planes’ primary user. In fiscal year 2016, WYDOT used the planes for 246 legs, carrying 827 passengers. In fiscal year 2017, the department flew 834 passengers on 222 legs, and during fiscal year 2018, WYDOT reported using the planes for 224 legs, carrying 693.

The governor’s office is consistently the second-highest user when combined with the governor’s residence category, which is used to log the flights of Wyoming’s first lady.

In fiscal year 2016, the governor’s office logged 123 legs carrying 452 passengers, while the governor’s residence reported 21 legs carrying 39 passengers. During fiscal year 2017, the governor’s office was responsible for 127 legs carrying 439 passengers, and the governor’s residence logged 14 legs carrying 29 passengers. And in fiscal year 2018, the governor’s office reported 97 legs carrying 330 passengers, while the governor’s residence recorded 27 legs carrying 44 passengers.

The Office of the Governor, Mark Gordon, who took office in 2019, said in a prepared statement: “Governor Gordon supports fiscal responsibility and the judicious use of taxpayer dollars. Several WYDOT studies have determined that owning state aircraft is more cost-efficient than private charters or driving vast distances.

“With his demanding schedule and numerous commitments across the state, the governor utilizes air travel on a limited basis in order to conduct official duties and be as accessible as possible to all Wyoming citizens, not just those in Cheyenne,” the statement concluded.

In fiscal year 2016, the Wyoming Department of Corrections Parole Board tied with the University of Wyoming for third-most user of the planes with both logging 120 legs. WDOC’s legs carried 352 passengers, while UW carried 278.

Neither agency logged more than 100 legs in fiscal yer 2017, but in fiscal year 2018, UW ranked the third-highest user with 112 legs carrying 295 passengers.

UW also owns two Beechcraft King Air turboprop aircraft, UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin said. One is designated for research, and the other is used for transportation.

Olsen said legislators can also use the state’s passenger jets, but those occurrences are rare.

“If one of them were to use the planes, they would have to log it under an agency they are working with or the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO),”  he explained.

The LSO logged 8 legs carrying 16 passengers in fiscal year 2016, and 8 legs carrying 14 passengers in fiscal year 2017. No trips were recorded by the LSO in fiscal year 2018.

In addition to carrying passengers, WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner said the planes could be used during emergency situations.

“They can be used for emergency viewing of a wildfire,” Reiner said. “And, let’s say WYDOT needs to look at a flood area or mud slide, they could be used for that, too.”

Modern Marvel: 90-year-old plane takes to the Wyoming skies

in News/Transportation
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The eyes go the skies when vintage aircraft signal their arrival.

A group of experimental aviators made it to Casper this weekend to spread the joy of flight and show off a 90-year-oold passenger plane from the era of Charles Lindbergh.

Frank Gambino tells us the story of the Ford Tri-Motor airplane, nicknamed the Tin Goose.

WYDOT increases safety message funding as highway fatalities skyrocket

in News/Transportation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation spends millions to inform the public about safe driving practices, but the death toll continues to rise on Wyoming’s highways.

Sixty-two people have died on Wyoming highways since the beginning of the year, nearly double the amount of fatalities recorded by this time in 2018 and 2017 and more than triple the number of highway fatalities by this date in 2016, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol website. Of the 62 fatalities in 2019, 29 are listed as resulting from a failure to wear seatbelts.

The increase is occurring even as the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s funding for public education is growing.But the effort to increase safety awareness is a long-term job, said WYDOT spokesman Doug McGee.

“What we’re talking about is behavioral change,” he said. “It takes years and years to take hold, and more time to measure.”

Highway fatalities fluctuate widely from year to year. In 2014, the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported 46 fatalities by May 16. That number dropped to 17 by May 16, 2016, the patrol website states, compared to this year’s figure of 62. McGee said his department has incrementally increased funding for safety messaging and public education since 2016 to encourage Wyoming drivers to be more safe on the road.

“The money comes from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — it’s all federal funds,” McGee explained. “The (Wyoming) Highway Safety Office entertains grants from all sorts of places, and the funds received are designated (for) information and education. They can’t be spent anywhere else.”

In 2016, WYDOT requested about $1.3 million from NHTSA, increasing the request by a couple hundred thousand dollars each following year. The department could receive as much as $2 million from NHTSA in 2019, McGee said.

“That money goes to WYDOT groups and sub-recipients such as the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving and the Wyoming Seatbelt Coalition,” he added. 

Once received, the funding is used to purchase airtime on local radio and TV stations, newspaper and magazine ads and banners at sporting events — all with the intent of pushing the message of safety while driving.

“We’re in a lot of community college campuses and at (the University of Wyoming), because that is very much our target audience,” McGee said. “Sporting events are a big one, too. We sponsor media at baseball games, football and rodeo events.”

WYDOT regularly uses traditional media — newspapers, TV and radio — to spread its message, but as the world races toward the digital era, the department is keeping pace.

“One of the areas we’re increasing our focus on is the digital platforms,” McGee explained. “What the digital platform provides is the opportunity to be more targeted in our message. We can reach a specific demographic more effectively than we can with say a newspaper ad.”

The predominant message is buckle up, WYDOT spokeswoman Aimee Inama said.

“We’ve had the seat belt campaign for numerous years,” she said. “But we don’t have an exact date when it started.”

Impaired driving is also high on the list, but McGee said the fastest growing area of concern is distracted driving.

“The gross of distracted driving as an issue has grown dramatically,” he explained. 

In an effort to reduce road distractions, WYDOT started purchasing digital ads that target phone users in hopes the message will remind them not use their devices while driving.

While advertising does comprise a large portion of the NHTSA funds, McGee said the money is also put toward public education events such as May Mobilization, a nationwide effort to increase seat belt usage.

WYDOT also sets up booths at public gatherings such as the Wyoming State Fair and Cheyenne Frontier Days and sends staff to educate children about safe driving in classrooms around the state.

“We recently started one particularly interesting campaign in some high schools,” McGee said. “We reach out to the school staff to identify some of the influencers among the kids, then we get them together and take photos for banners and posters with safe driving messages on them.”

The program has seen some success with teachers and parents reporting the students respond well to the posters, and in some cases, put them up at home, he said.

WYDOT crews work to clear Snowy Range Road

in News/Transportation
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Crews from the Wyoming Department of Transportation are working this week to clear the Snowy Range Road between Laramie and Saratoga of snow drifts reaching more than 6 feet in depth.

Crews from Laramie and Saratoga are trying to clear all snow off of the 68-mile stretch of Wyoming Highway 130 before the Memorial Day holiday, an effort that usually begins in mid-April, said WYDOT spokesman Matt Murphy.

“A lot of them (crew members) really enjoy it,” Murphy said. “They take pride in their work.”

Using bulldozers, rotary plows and snowplows, the crews will work to remove all the snow from the highway that provides a scenic link between Laramie and Saratoga.

“It’s very beautiful, it’s kind of one of our more hidden gems in Wyoming,” Murphy said of the highway. “It’s a really scenic highway and there’s just a lot of recreation opportunities.”

The road closes every year for the winter — last year, it closed on Nov. 6 — and then reopens for summer travel, usually by or near Memorial Day.

Murphy reminded drivers that even though the highway may be open by Memorial Day, slush and water can still find their way onto the road as snow along the highway continues to melt, creating icy patches at times.

“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,” he 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.”

Wyoming’s jets cost state $1 million in 2018

in Government spending/News/Transportation
Wyoming’s jets cost state $1 million in 2018
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

With 99 municipalities spread far and wide across Wyoming’s approximately 98,000 square miles, transportation can be time consuming for state employees and elected officials.

However, some disagree on whether the best way to meet those travel needs is to keep the two state jets sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Wyoming Air Force.”

In 2002, the state purchased two Cessna Citation Encores, twin-engine transport jets, to reduce the time its employees and officials spent on the road, said Brian Olsen, administrator of the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.

Not everyone, however, agrees the jets are the most efficient form of transportation.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said he has added an amendment to the state’s budget bill to sell one of the jets every year since he was elected in 2017. But, so far, the amendment has failed.

“I think they’re an example of government extravagance,” Gray said. “There’s no reason we should have this many jets.”

Olsen disagreed. By owning two jets, he said the state could ensure one plane is available whenever needed.

“When it comes to maintenance, one plane is no plane,” Olsen explained.

According to Wyoming’s checkbook, WYDOT spent about $494,700 on aircraft maintenance with Cessna Aircraft Company in 2018. Olsen said $464,000 of that total was spent on maintaining the jets. The state also owns a Cessna 208, a single-engine turbo prop used to photographically survey road conditions, he said.

WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner said two jets is optimal.

“We have one jet going into maintenance in June,” Reiner said. “Having two planes does provide a certain sense of redundancy. Also, there’s use for two aircraft … in terms of the ability for elected leaders and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities to the state and the residents.”

Regardless of whether flying is more efficient, government air service stymies private enterprise, said Kevin Lewis, a researcher for Equality State Taxpayers Association.

“People who fly in Wyoming make up a market for air travel,” Lewis said. “Right now, the government sector is removed from that market. We’re talking about a business that lives and dies on slim margins.”

By selling the jets, he suggested the state could create an environment for private intra-state air travel to expand.

“Wyoming is never going to grow itself if your main competitor is the government,” Lewis added.

Cost efficiency

Olsen said WYDOT researched the possibility of booking flights with private charters, but determined owning and maintaining its own fleet was about 44 percent more cost effective.

WYDOT also looked into fractional aircraft, the practice of sharing aircraft ownership, maintenance and operation costs with multiple owners, and determined fractional ownership would be 32 percent more expensive than owning the jets solely.

In regards to employee travel, Olsen said WYDOT studies reported flying employees across the state was 14 percent more cost efficient than paying them to drive.

“We looked at a couple salary levels, but mostly around the $100,000-a-year mark,” he explained. “But those studies don’t take into consideration the cost of motels or opportunity costs.”

Employees are rendered somewhat ineffective while driving, because the time they spend on the road — even when carpooling — is not conducive to a productive work environment, he added.

As stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, Reiner said he believed the jets were the most fiscally responsible travel option for state employees and elected officials.

“I think these aircraft are a really good use of resources for our state,” he said.

Between bulk jet fuel purchases of about $185,000, $464,000 in maintenance costs and approximately $327,000 in pilot’s salaries, Wyoming spent about $1 million on traveling via the two jets in 2018.

Despite WYDOT’s efficiency report, Gray said he would still like Legislature to review the possibility of reducing the state’s air fleet by one jet.

“When I’ve done town halls, I’ve consistently heard the jets are a problem,” he said. “We’re going to continue trying the amendment.”

Reiner said he doesn’t believe the state needs more than two jets, but the state should maintain its current fleet.

“The planes are a tremendous asset for our government,” he said. “The bottom line is they help us accomplish our mission.”

Wyoming’s Air Fleet By the Numbers

  • Aircraft: 2-Cessna twin-engine passenger jets, 1-Cessna single-engine turbo prop survey plane
  • Viable landing strips across Wyoming: 34
  • Maintenance cost for 2018: About $464,000
  • Fuel cost for 2018: About $185,000
  • Annual pilot salaries combined: About $327,000
  • Transport jet flights in 2018: 663, carrying a total 2,213 passengers

Big Boy embarks on Great Race to Promontory Point

in News/Transportation
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Watch as the world’s largest steam locomotive returns to the rails as Union Pacific Railroad commemorates transcontinental railroad’s 150th Anniversary.

Train engineer explains the origins of the ‘Big Boy’

in Community/Transportation
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Rail enthusiasts from around the world are looking to Cheyenne this weekend as the the largest steam locomotive ever built begins a trip to Utah.

In this interview with the Cowboy State Daily, former steam locomotive engineer Bob Krieger — a member of the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club, Inc. — discusses the Union Pacific Big Boy Locomotive and explains the allure of steam engines and trains in general. The model train layout in the background is in operation and can be seen every weekend at Cheyenne’s Frontier Mall.

Largest steam locomotive ever made to hit the rails again

in News/Tourism/Transportation
1313
Courtesy: Union Pacific Youtube posted Jan. 29 2019

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A resurrected giant of the rails built specifically to conquer the steep grades of the Rocky Mountain West will roll through Wyoming once again beginning Saturday.

The Big Boy locomotive, the largest steam engine ever built, will take off from Cheyenne’s Union Pacific Depot on Saturday morning, bound for Utah and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway.

In an event to be attended by hundreds of train enthusiasts from around the world, the “Big Boy” will be christened at 9:30 a.m. Saturday before leaving for Ogden, Utah. Ogden is about 30 miles from Promontory Point, where the “golden spike” was driven in 1869 to link the Central Pacific’s line built east from Sacramento, California, with the Union Pacific line built west from the Missouri River. UP no longer has lines near the site.

This will mark the first time since 1961 that any of the 25 Big Boys built between 1941 and 1944 has been in active service for Union Pacific and the event is drawing rail fans from as far as Norway and Australia, said Bob Krieger, a former steam locomotive engineer who now runs the UP Historical Society in Cheyenne.

The attraction for many, Krieger said, rests in the allure of steam engines themselves.

“A steam locomotive is a living, breathing piece of machinery,” he said. “You can see its muscles. You can hear it breathe as it pulls a grade. All steam engines do that. The Big Boy is just the biggest.”

Weighing in at more than 1.2 million pounds, the Big Boy is 132 feet long and hinged in the center so it can negotiate turns in the rails.The Big Boy was created primarily to haul large loads up the Wasatch grade between Ogden, Utah, and Evanston, Wyoming.

“As the railroads expanded and grew their business, the train got longer and heavier and they had to have more powerful engines for the grades,” Krieger said. “The Big Boys, when they were designed, were actually going to be called the ‘Wasatch Class,’ but on the first one to come out, somebody had chalked on the smoke box ‘Big Boy.’”

Of the 25 Big Boys created, only eight remain intact on display around the country. Union Pacific obtained one from a transportation museum in California for refurbishment to take part in the “golden spike” celebration.

The locomotive was brought to Cheyenne, the headquarters for UP’s Steam Division, to be restored. There, crews relied on old schematics to recreate machinery parts that were no longer available for the locomotive, which was retired from UP’s roster in 1961.

After more than two years of work, the Big Boy — now fitted to burn oil instead of coal to generate steam — is ready for the trip to Promontory Point. It will be joined for the trip by UP’s “Living Legend” locomotive, the last steam locomotive to be built for the railroad.

The christening itself is a ticketed event and tickets have been sold out for weeks. However, the locomotives will be stopping at several points along the route before reaching Ogden, Utah, on May 9. (For details, see the schedule at the bottom of this story or visit Union Pacific’s website).

The locomotives will be viewable in Harriman, Laramie, Medicine Bow and Rawlins on Saturday.

Or, for a look at a smaller version of the world’s largest steam locomotive, a visit to the Frontier Mall in Cheyenne might be in order, where a model train version of the Big Boy holds a place of honor in the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club’s layout — atop a trestle passing over a deep canyon.

Krieger, a member of the club, said the fact that up to 500 people visit the layout each weekend shows how popular trains remain for Americans.

“It’s a part of Americana,” he said. “During the (WWII) years, the railroad was the mainstay for moving freight, troops and supplies. A lot of us, when we were young, were very interested in watching trains run.”

The popularity of the layout translates well for the club’s annual railroad show at the Frontier Park exhibition hall, where several thousand will visit on the weekend of May 18-19. The event will feature nine model railroad layouts and 43 vendors.

Schedule for the “Great Race to Ogden”

To be traveled by the “Big Boy” and “Living Legends” locomotives

Saturday, May 4:

10 a.m.: Depart Cheyenne

11:15 a.m.: Arrive Harriman, depature 11:30 a.m.

12:30 p.m.: Arrive Laramie, departure 1:15 p.m.

2:30 p.m.: Arrive Medicine Bow, departure 3:15 p.m.

4:45 p.m.: Arrive Rawlins.

Sunday, May 5:

8 a.m.: Depart Rawlins

9:15 a.m.: Arrive Wamsutter, departure 10 a.m.

11:15 a.m.: Arrive Rock Springs

Monday, May 6: 

4 a.m.: Depart Rock Springs

4:55 a.m.: Arrive Green River, departure 5:10 a.m.

6:15 a.m.: Arrive Granger, departure 7 a.m.

8:45 a.m.: Arrive Evanston

Tuesday, May 7:

Full day in Evanston, no public display.

Wednesday, May 8:

8 a.m.: Depart Evanston

9:25 a.m.: Arrive Echo, Utah, departure 9:40 a.m.

10:20 a.m.: Arrive Morgan, Utah, departure 10:35 a.m.

11:35 a.m.: Arrive, Ogden, Utah.

Thursday, May 9:

10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.:  Free public display at Ogden Union Station

The location of the Big Boy can also be tracked via GPS at the UP website: https://www.up.com/forms/steam-trace.cfm

Proposal to set toll for I-80 revived

in News/Transportation
Wyoming State Senator proposes toll on 1-80
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hBy Cowboy State Daily

A state legislator is proposing another attempt to set a toll for travel on Interstate 80 as a way to pay for improvements to Wyoming’s busiest interstate highway.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is proposing the toll as a way to widen I-80 and add a third lane in each direction that could be used by cars and other passengers vehicles.

Money raised by the toll would be dedicated to improvement and maintenance of the highway. 

Under Von Flatern’s plan, tolls would be collected for all vehicles traveling the highway, but the toll of Wyoming residents would be paid from federal mineral royalties that go the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Such a plan would avoid charges of discrimination against out-of-state drivers

“If you want to toll somebody that lives in Nebraska, you have to toll somebody who lives in Wyoming,” he said. “But in this case, they will just take it out of the federal mineral royalties.”

The cost to the state in mineral royalties would not exceed the revenue collected through tolls, he added.

“Eighty percent of the traffic on I-80 does not start or stop in the state of Wyoming, other than maybe to get fuel,” he said.

Von Flatern noted that this past winter, every day saw some segment of the interstate closed because of bad weather.

But Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, said an extra lane would not solve problems caused by the weather.

“Having an extra lane doesn’t correct Mother Nature,” he said.

Bouchard said he is worried the toll could eventually be paid by Wyoming residents.

“Everything that I see, when it talks about a tax or a fee or in this case a toll, it’s framework legislation,” he said. “Meaning that once they get it in, sooner or later we’re all going to pay this toll.”

A toll would have to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration before it could be considered by the Legislature.

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