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Interstate 80 Remains Closed as WHP Continues Cleanup

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Federal bill would help Wyoming’s highway maintenance
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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.”

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.”

Zwonitzer: Time for Legislature to study gas tax increase

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It is time for the state to study a possible increase in gasoline taxes, according to the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said the proposed 3-cent per gallon tax increase approved by the Revenue Committee in July should definitely be reviewed by the Legislature when it meets in 2020.

“The last actual tax that the Legislature has increased, the only tax in my 15 years, has been the gas tax,” he said. “And it’s probably time again.”

The 3-cent increase would boost Wyoming’s total tax on gasoline to 27 cents per gallon and raise an additional $20 million per year. Under the proposal forwarded to the Legislature by the Revenue Committee, $13.5 million of that would go to the state Department of Transportation to build and maintain roads, while $6.5 million would be split between city and county governments.

Zwonitzer said the increase, which would leave Wyoming’s total gas taxes among the lowest in the region, would help offset some of the Department of Transportation’s deferred maintenance costs.

“But with hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needed, the 3 cents is really just kind of a chip in the bucket,” he said.

The state last increased gasoline taxes in 2014, adding 10 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Cassie Craven, of the Wyoming Liberty Group, said she wondered what the money raised by the last increase had been used for.

“I’m wondering where that money went,” he said. “We heard back then we wouldn’t feel it at the pumps and gas prices don’t seem to indicate that. So where did the money go?”

The Wyoming Taxpayers Association, Wyoming Truckers Association and Petroleum Marketers Association have all said their members would support the increase as long as the extra tax is not tied to inflation.

The Wyoming Farm Bureau is on record as opposing the tax because of the expenses it would add to farming operations.

Five Questions with State Representative Landon Brown on Tolling Interstate 80

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Wyoming State Representative Landon Brown is opposed to turning Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Cowboy State Daily sat down with him recently and discussed why he doesn’t like the idea:

Brown:

The proposal in front of us right now is what I’m not in favor of.  The proposal has been tried by six or seven other states — which is where you can use existing infrastructure and you can use existing highways that the federal government has supported building. And you can use that as a tollway.

But you have to jump through hundreds of hoops and that doesn’t make sense to me because these other six or seven states that have tried this have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to appease the federal government to do this and not a single one of them have been able to do it. They’ve all dropped out and wasted millions of dollars.

To me, it seems like an incredible waste of money to go through the same process that other states have dumped millions of dollars into and I don’t want to see Wyoming do that.

There is an option to do a toll road on I-80 and make it a tolling lane but it would cost us a billion dollars to build a new lane in each direction and the state would have to foot that bill. The federal government won’t support that whatsoever.

In a time of economic downturn in our state where we’re not seeing coal, oil, and gas revenues, we’re certainly not going to see a billion dollars of revenue to build another lane. So tolling I-80, in my opinion, is not the way forward.

Cowboy State Daily:

The Wyoming Department of Transportation says we need another $40 million per year put into maintenance and upkeep of Interstate 80. Where do we get the money if we don’t toll?

Brown:  

I think WYDOT is in a sticky situation right now. I think we’ve got way more roads than what we have money for. I think if we look and pair it down to the I-80 corridor, I do believe — especially with the amount of truck traffic that we see on a daily basis going in and out of our state — I do believe that those figures are fairly accurate.

The problem I have with that is if you pair that money away from other projects across the state, those roads are going to be getting hit for just as bad. Those are the roads that Wyoming citizens are using on a daily basis — not people who are just traveling straight through.

WYDOT has done a really good job in the past 10 – 15 years making sure that I-80 is still good for all the truck traffic coming through here but we’re also maintaining our roads throughout the rest of the state as well.

I don’t know if we have an easy way forward. I think it is going to be growing pains for all of us. But truck traffic is not going to go down anytime soon.

Cowboy State Daily:

If we don’t toll, how do we target the vehicles that do the most damage to Interstate 80?

Brown:

That’s a really good question. That’s a tough question. When you look at the Wyoming Trucking Association and the impact fees that are associated with driving a truck through the state of Wyoming as opposed to our neighboring states, we are far higher on our truck traffic for oversized loads.  Any type of those loads and fees that we charge truckers when they hit the point of entry [are higher] than our surrounding states.

The argument has always been they do way more damage to the road than the standard passenger vehicle so why aren’t they paying their fair share? I don’t know necessarily feel that they aren’t quite paying their fair share but I do think there is a better way to do it. But it’s a silver bullet that no one has found yet.

To sit there and say that these people have to — the truckers especially because they are doing anywhere from 14,000 – 16,000 times the amount of damage than the standard passenger car does, that’s where the breakdown happens. We can’t charge a trucker 14,000 times the amount of fuel taxes that we charge a standard passenger car.

We have to look at this legitimately and understand that this is not going to be an easy process to work through and we’re not going to find a silver bullet that’s going to solve every single issue that we have on our roadways.

Cowboy State Daily:

Do we need another study?

Brown:

The study, to me, I think — when we sat down at the last committee meeting — it wasn’t a study of what we’ve already studied, it was more of a where can we look at tolling as an option and what other options do we have? What are the other things we can look at for fixing our roadways?

Senator Pappas brought up the idea of doing a singular toll right in the center of the state as opposed to multiple stations. Well, that’s one option. But what about the people who go up and down I-25, there is a lot of traffic there. Should we look at charging on those as well. Should we look at charging other places?

There are quite a few other options that could look at beyond just tolling I-80 that would help bring revenue in. That’s where the study and task force — it was actually more of a task force to bring interested parties to the table. The Wyoming Trucking Association and the Contractors Association — all of these people who have a benefit with the use of I-80. Bring them to the table and see if there is another way to do this besides strictly tolling the trucks that are coming through the State of Wyoming.

Cowboy State Daily:

Could you be open to tolling?

Brown:  

I don’t think that I really am. It’s a tough question. If it came out that this study and the task force recommends and that’s the best way forward, I would need to consider it. As it stands right now, no I am not open to tolling because I don’t feel that it is the adequate way to do it.

We would spend millions of dollars on this project to get it up and running and we wouldn’t see anything until 2028. We’re talking 10 years down the road before we even see the potential of this getting approved. How much time and money are we going to waste in getting it there?

I can tell you how much we can just ask the other 6 or 7 states that have processed this. My opinion is we don’t need to go down this road. We’ve already seen these other states put millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours spent and it is not worth it in my opinion.

Cowboy State Daily:

Is it realistic to say that better budgeting is the answer?

Brown:

I think budgeting better is a good portion of it. But it goes back to what I said earlier, I think one of the things that we have to look at is what roads do we want to keep in the best shape possible?

Do we want to keep the roads that Wyoming citizens are using on a daily basis or the ones that we have people coming in and out of the state transferring their goods and services from one coast to the other. Do we want to keep that one as high as possible?

We do have to look at revenue enhancements. There is going to have to be some sort of — if we want to keep it as the status quo. WYDOT is telling us we are $100 million short of what we need for all of our roadways across the state. $100 million is not going to appear especially when we see coal declining over the next 10 – 20 years. And we see oil and gas being as volatile as well.

We’re going to have to figure out how to fix this and right now the federal government is looking at bringing in some additional help with our infrastructure. But when we start looking at the federal government bringing this in, we can’t count on that all the time. And it has taken us 20 years to see this infrastructure bill come to fruition.

Five questions on toll roads with Wyoming Senator Michael Von Flatern

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State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is one of a number of supporters of a proposal to make Interstate 80 a toll road.

The senator expanded on his position during a recent question-and-answer session with Cowboy State Daily. 

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

Von Flatern: 

Eighty-five percent of the traffic neither stops nor originates at all in the State of Wyoming. Eighty-five percent of the traffic just passes through.


We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money …

We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

Cowboy State Daily:

Who pays for the toll and can Wyoming residents be exempt?

Von Flatern:

The federal government owns that road. I-80 is an Interstate project. I would tell WYDOT to find a way to exempt Wyoming residents. The only way they’ve come up with so far is every time a Wyoming registered vehicle drives through the cameras, we’ll ding the federal mineral royalties (FMRs).

We’ll ding the FMRs. They get about $60 million, $64 million to be exact every year in FMRs. So we would be paying the tolls. Although we would be paying the tolls from a different bank account.

Cowboy State Daily:

If Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay the toll, why is there opposition?

Von Flatern:

That I cannot figure. There is a constitutional issue which some have brought up. There is nothing in the constitution that says anything about letting the state toll a road. It says I can’t privately give it to you to run this toll across this ferry or run this toll on this bridge. I can’t give it to you and I can’t give it to a county. But the state can do a general bill which says we’ll do the most economical way of tolling a highway and what does that lead to?


And then we’d do a study real quick on the back of a napkin and say I-80 because it has 12,000-some vehicles per day passing any one point. They would look at that and look at I-90 and it doesn’t have enough vehicles. I-25, not enough vehicles to even pay for the tolling system. I-80 will pay for itself and it would take a back of a napkin to figure that out.

Cowboy State Daily:

If we don’t enact a toll, where will we get the money to keep our roads fixed and safe?

Von Flatern:

That will be tough. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition. Highway 59, which is 110 miles you just drove yourself up from Douglas to Gillette, the oilfield is really starting to hammer that road and I don’t think they have any money other than to put another overlay on or occasionally dig an area up and work over the base.

We’re losing ground on our roads. We’re not improving them at all. Unless we toll and take I-80 out of the picture. Remember it is going to have $50 million above what it needs to operate. That’s at the lower end — 10 cents a mile toll. You’ll have $50 million dollars to replace those bridges over at Wamsutter. That’s $50 million to do lots of things on I-80 that they can’t do today because they don’t have any additional money.

Cowboy State Daily:

Why don’t we just cut spending and budget better with existing revenues?

Von Flatern:

We’re about 2008 budget (levels) now. So 10 years ago budget. They’ll talk about the expansion of the budget from 1999 to 2008 or 2009. That was catch-up time. 


We needed to implement and we had federal mandates that said we had to spend this money. We had to implement a lot of things that we were ignoring in the 90s because we didn’t have the money.

So we are clear down to 2008 budget today. And 10 years later we’re back spending the same amount of money.

We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage to cut anymore without cutting services completely and turning these roads into dirt roads.

Cowboy State Daily:

How confident are you that your legislation will pass?

Von Flatern: 

I have some opposition. There are some people who don’t understand the fact that Wyoming registered vehicles won’t pay the tolls. The (Wyoming) Trucking Association is carrying the water for the national group which doesn’t want any existing roads to be tolled because it is a tax for them. We understand that. They are non-resident and they should be paying.

We have heard that up to 12,000 cars do the damage of one loaded truck. I have heard that it is as high as 14,000. But 12,000 is the number we use today. 12,000 cars for every truck. That means they would have to pay 12,000 times what a car pays to drive across this state.

A truck does pay a couple hundred dollars more to cross the state because they have to report 410 miles. But that’s not 12,000 times what they should have paid because they do the damage to the roads. So the trucking association and I think the truck stops on I-80 are a little excited about this. But I don’t think they will see any diversion especially if we keep the tolls low enough.

We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money … We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

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