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Interstate 80

WYDOT Proposes Reroute Of I-80 To Avoid Winter Closures

in News/Transportation

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

With Wyoming only in the start of its most treacherous travel months of the year, travelers used to driving on Interstate 80 are preparing for the regular closures that accompany winter weather.

What the state’s Department of Transportation would really like to see, however, is an end to some of those closures by rerouting the southern Wyoming highway away from the worst of the weather.

Luke Reiner, WYDOT director, said the agency has made a unique proposal to the federal government – rerouting I-80 to avoid the part of the interstate that closes most often.

“If you look at a map, you’ll see that the old highway, Highway 30, goes further to the north, and then sort of comes down from the north into I-80,” Reiner said. “Rumor has it that when they went to build I-80, that the initial route followed the route of Highway 30. And somebody made the decision, ‘No, we’re going to move closer to these very beautiful mountains,’ to which the locals said, ‘Bad idea,’ based on weather. And it has proved to be true.”

Reiner said if the interstate could be shifted to the north, many weather-related closures could be avoided.

“Our suggestion to the federal government is to say, ‘If you want to do something for the nation’s commerce along I-80, reroute it. Follow Highway 30 — it’s about 100 miles of new interstate, the estimated cost would be about $6 billion,’” he said. “So, it’s not cheap, but our estimate is that it would dramatically reduce the number of days the interstate’s closed, because that’s the section that that kills us.”

Reiner said that essentially, I-80 all the way across Wyoming is a mountain pass.

“I mean, it’s 6,200 feet,” he said. “And so that brings its own trouble, and then of course the drastic wind events, the high wind events and blowing snow that we have in Arlington, around Elk Mountain, really caused a lot of trouble.”

According to staff at WYDOT, in February of 2021, I-80 was closed to commercial truck traffic almost 12% of the daytime hours that month; in December of 2021, the highway was closed to commercial traffic almost 16% of the month due to inclement weather.

“(I-80) is closed more to high profile light vehicles then it is closed to all traffic,” Reiner said. “And that’s an important distinction, because we cannot control the wind events.”

Beyond the impact on Wyoming traffic, Reiner pointed out that closures on this particular stretch of interstate affect the whole country.

“That wind event negatively affects the economy of our nation, because it stops the trucks,” he said. “I-80 is a route of national commerce. And when we shut it down, we’re all just very aware that it’s a big deal.”

John Waggener, whose book “Snow Chi Minh Trail” details the history of the interstate, told Cowboy State Daily the Legislature actually entertained a bill during the 1973 legislative session to close the stretch of the interstate between Laramie and Walcott Junction in the winter.

Waggener noted the state has been innovative in adopting measures to try to keep the road open as safely as possible.

“The Laramie-Walcott stretch of I-80 essentially became ground zero for wintertime highway maintenance innovation,” he said. “This road ushered in the road closure gate (the first in the nation on a major highway), the highway department began the use of the variable message sign on this road, as well as the variable speed limit. 

And perhaps the biggest investment was the snow fence project,” he continued. “Though snow fences existed and were in use around the state, no major technical research had been done for snow fences. I-80 became the testing ground for what became the industry standard snow fence (the design is in use around the world.)”

In spite of the best efforts of the state’s transportation department, closures continue to plague interstate travel. And Reiner is realistic about the reality of the rerouting project coming to fruition.

“I think the chances of this happening are very, very, very, very small,” he said.

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UW Author Discusses His Book: “Snow Chi Minh Trail: A History of Interstate 80”

in News/Transportation

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By Kayne Pyatt, Uinta County Herald

EVANSTON — “I was born and raised in Green River and attended the University of Wyoming so I have spent a lot of time on Interstate 80; and being stuck in Laramie because of weather conditions.  That 77 miles between Rawlins and Laramie is a nasty stretch of road,” University of Wyoming Archivist John Waggener told the audience at the Uinta County Museum’s brown bag lunch last month.

Waggener was the keynote speaker at the August lunch series to discuss the research in his book, titled “Snow Chi Minh Trail: A History of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction” (50th Anniversary Edition). Waggener said the history behind the development of I-80 became a personal interest due to having traveled that stretch of miles many times. 

In his research, Waggener found that the Wyoming Highway Commission had assumed that the Interstate would just follow U.S. 30 but the Federal government had different plans.  The feds, Waggener said, wanted to cut off approximately 20 miles on the journey by using a different route.  The route the Feds planned would bypass communities and had serious winter conditions.

From 1956 through 1959, the I-80 vs. US 30 debate took place in the U.S. Senate.  It even continued up until 1973.  Senator Gayle McGee fought long and hard with the Federal Bureau of Public Roads but the Wyoming Highway Commission lost the debate. 

An interesting fact, Waggener shared, was that during the debate in the 1950s, Wyoming Highway Department set up stations on the highway and asked motorists if they would rather save 20 miles on their journey or be able to stop in towns along the way. Ninety percent responded that they would rather save the 20 miles. 

Since the Interstate highway is federal and motorists from all over the country travel it on their way to somewhere else, the thinking was that saving the mileage was most important, Waggener said, and added that the trucking and bus industries had a powerful lobby with the Senate. 

A lot of compromise routes were proposed; one going next to Elk Mountain and another to join I-25 from Casper at Laramie but Waggener said, “The feds had their own plan.”

Waggener said for years there was a myth that Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, had something to do with choosing the route.  Lady Bird had come to Wyoming in 1965 for the dedication of Flaming Gorge Dam and the myth was that she told them to put the highway next to Elk Mountain as part of her highway beautification project. 

“However,” Waggener said, “Lady Bird Johnson was never in that area and the route for I-80 was proposed in 1955, ten years prior to her visit. So we can put that myth to bed.”

Construction began on I-80 the summer of 1966 and it took four years to build the 77 miles between Laramie and Walcott Junction.

On Oct. 3, 1970, a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting was held at Arlington with 400 people in attendance. Motorists traveling from a football game at UW were a captured audience due to the ceremony held in the middle of the highway. 

Four days after the ceremony, I-80 was closed due to winter weather. Waggener said, “The people of Wyoming could have said, ‘We told you so!’”

Waggener used the name “Snow Chi Minh Trail” because Wyomingites called it that. He found a story in the Rawlins Daily Times dated Oct. 12, 1970, referencing the U.S. bomber raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the description of the weather there that matched the weather on I-80 in Wyoming which he thought may have been the origin for people in Wyoming giving the 77 miles of I-80 the name.

When journalist Charles Kuralt traveled I-80 in Wyoming for a feature story in January of 1972, he called it the worse road in the U.S.  In Kuralt’s book “On the Road,” he mentions the Valentine’s Day massacre, a major pile-up of motorists on I-80, where he and his photographer took an injured woman in their car to the hospital in Laramie.

Waggener continued the history of I-80 in Wyoming with a discussion of the creation of snow fences to control the snow drifts in order to maintain travel. Different styles of fences were used and none were sufficient to stop the massive amounts of drifting snow due to excessive wind. There were 24 areas with major problems with drifting snow and wind.

WYDOT had never dealt with anything like this before so they enlisted the help of the Forest Service. Together they researched with scale models to see which style of fence would work.  Finally, in 1971 they came up with what is known and used around the world as the Wyoming fence. That 12-foot-high snow fence is still being used today.

“The Wyoming fence should be our icon, like the cowboy. The Union Pacific was putting up snow fences within weeks of our becoming a territory in 1868,” Waggener said.

The next problem WYDOT faced was how to control traffic when roads needed to be closed.  From 1970 through 1973, hundreds of motorists had been stranded on the highway. WYDOT’s first solution was to have personnel stand out on the highway at the closure point waving a stop sign, which was a waste of manpower and unsafe.

In 1973, WYDOT installed the first gate at Laramie and Walcott Junction. From 1991 through the present day, drop down gates and overhead information signs were installed. Variable speed limit signs were placed on the highway in 2008 and expanded in 2010. WYDOT also placed sand sheds across I-80 and established a mission control center in Cheyenne that manages the signs, electricity, and data.

“History is the present as well as the old history. What will be the future for I-80? Increased traffic? A recent study showed that 60% of all traffic on I-80 is commercial trucks. WYDOT is building more parking lots on I-80 and braking lanes for trucks in order to manage safety,” Waggener said. “A UW professor is currently working on a computer program that could connect communication between all trucks on the highway.”

Waggener wrapped up his presentation, “Thank you for coming. Be safe and enjoy wonderful Wyoming.  By the way, the proceeds from the sale of my book go to the Wyoming Historical Society and to the Uinta County Museum.”

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Wyoming Interstates Open; Thousands of Truckers Get Back To Work

in Interstate 80/News

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Gentlemen, start your engines.

It’s a dated reference but the sentiment is clear: it’s time to go.

And go they did. Truckers, that is. They had been lined up near Interstate 80 onramps for more than three days as a historic late-winter blizzard in Wyoming shut down much of Wyoming.

Whether it was a photo taken in Cheyenne, Evanston, or all points in between, hundreds, if not thousands, of truckers were given the green flag — appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day — at 9:30 Wednesday morning and off they went.

Only hours earlier, the same thing happened on I-25 after days of waiting.

Having so many truckers packed in together spooked some Cowboy State Daily readers.

“I’ve been through this scene many times over the years. When the roads first open up, sit back and have another cup of coffee or 2. Let the traffic thin out a little before you hit the road,” said Karla Roich on Cowboy State Daily’s Facebook page.

Two commenters wagered on when a massive accident and subsequent shutdown of I-80 would take place due to so many trucks on the road. (They both lost as I-80 stayed open and no wrecks were reported).

Dennis Arends, a truck driver for 42 years, said these drivers should have planned better.

“Better planning would have prevented most of this,” he said. “There was plenty of warnings. It’s always a gamble to cross I-80 Wyoming during winter months due to closers.”

To be fair, meteorologists don’t always get it right.

Wyoming meteorologist Don Day said he was getting texts on Saturday morning and afternoon questioning whether his forecast of heavy snow was going to happen.

By Sunday morning, everybody knew: Day was 100% right. He nailed it.

When asked if he’s ever wanted to start one of his highly-watched podcasts by saying “I told you so,” he quickly said no — and not necessarily because of humility. More because of Karma.

“The weather gods will kick my ass on the next storm,” Day said.

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Interstate 80 Between Cheyenne and Rawlins Closed Due to Weather and Accidents

in Road Closure/Interstate 80/News/Transportation

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Photo credit: Terry Butler

If it doesn’t seem that long ago that Interstate 80 was closed due to inclement weather, it’s because it hasn’t been that long ago. 

Last year, in fact, the state hit a record for the number of times I-80 was closed down due to Mother Nature. 

And she struck again today.

On Sunday afternoon, portions of the most-infamous part of Interstate 80 were closed due to winter-like weather and a series of accidents.

“10 semis and at least five cars and trucks are in a pileup wreck,” Terry Butler wrote on the Facebook page Wyoming Road and Weather Condition Updates. “There are at least 300 semis and vehicles behind them.”

Butler was referring to an accident that occurred east of Cheyenne near Burns.

Here’s the latest:

I-80 between Cheyenne and Rawlins (both directions are closed) and the estimated reopening time is 18-20 hours.

If you are stuck, hopefully you have fuel, warm clothes, boots, Internet access, food, something to drink, seats that fully recline, an iPad, and a Netflix account. 

Ideally, you would be driving in an RV.  That way, you could take a shower, cook a turkey, stretch out on the couch, and watch NFL Red Zone. RV is the way to go.

I-80 eastbound between Creston Junction and Rawlins due to rolling closure. No estimates on that reopening.

I-80 westbound between Pine Bluffs and Cheyenne due to crash. No estimates on reopening time.

US 30/287 between Bosler and Walcott Junction. This is a rough stretch of road weather-wise. If you are stuck here, hunker down. Your estimated reopening time 18-20 hours.

US 287 south of Laramie (estimated reopening time unknown).

The winter storm is impacting travel throughout the region, with strong winds and blowing snow making for very limited visibility.

No unnecessary travel on I-25 or mountain passes like WYO 70 through Battle Pass or WYO 130 through the Snowy Range.

If all of this is making you wonder why Interstate 80 was built where it was, check out this interesting article.

And you can check here for the latest road conditions.

For latest road conditions, go to wyoroad.info, download the 511 app or call 511.

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Bill Sniffin: Interesting That Big I-80 Crash Did Not Occur On Snow Chi Minh Trail

in Column/Bill Sniffin

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily Publisher

Most drivers experience their worst winter traffic nightmares on Interstate 80 in an area from Elk Mountain to Laramie.

Yet, the biggest crash in years occurred last Sunday, March 1, on a lonely desert section of road near Creston Junction (note: some early reports listed it as occurring near “Crescent Junction,” which is on Interstate 70).

This barren lonely stretch of highway includes a small population of oilfield folks, who populate the nearby town of Wamsutter. It is a home of man camps and trailer villages. It can be a brutal place in winter with unrelenting wind, icy roads, never-ending traffic, and the desolate feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.

Into this fray hundreds of big trucks and dozens of cars and pickups found themselves driving too fast and slamming into a huge string of vehicles that had crashed ahead of them.

It must have been horrible for the victims to know that it would be a long time before highway patrolmen, EMTs, and wreckers could get to them, when you are located so far out in the Big Empty in such terrible weather conditions.

Trying to get somewhere as fast as possible sounds familiar to me. In my life, it seems like I always needed to be somewhere at a specific time. Wyoming’s roads and winter weather rarely cooperated with my schedules. Today, I am able to monitor the weather and the roads and leave a day early or perhaps even re-schedule .

Most of those folks involved in that crash Sunday were on deadlines. They rolled the dice and took the chance that they could get through those awful conditions and say a prayer afterward for their good luck. But this was not to be their lucky day. Three people died and other reports said as many as 30 people were injured.

The video of that crash scene was seen by 500,000 people (according to Cowboy State Daily) and after viewing it, you again ask yourself why you would put yourself into harm’s way by driving a car or a pickup amongst all those gigantic trucks? What chance has a 3,500-pound car have when colliding with a 60,000-pound truck? In that video, some good Samaritans were trying to get a person out of a small black car that was unrecognizable, smashed so much in the front and in the rear. Truly a scary thing to see.

By the way, Wyoming was voted number-one for most dangerous state to drive in during winter weather. The nine other worst states for winter driving were: 2. Vermont 3. Montana 4. Idaho 5. Maine 6. Michigan 7. Iowa 8. New Mexico 9. Minnesota and 10. Nebraska. Not sure why Colorado was missed from this list.

John Waggener’s great book about Interstate 80, which he calls the Snow Chi Minh Trail, explains why federal highway officials picked the mountainous site rather than the longer U.S. Highway 30 route.

There were some very stubborn federal officials, headed by a rock head named Frank Turner, who were obsessed with the new road cutting off 19 “unnecessary miles,” compared to the route used by U. S. 30 through Rock River and Medicine Bow.

Waggener even recalls a heated exchange between Turner and former U. S. Senator Gale McGee. Turner prevailed.

Wyoming people fought valiantly in the 1960s to keep the new road out of the mountains. The federal people would not listen to them and threatened to not build it, unless it could be built on their route through the mountains.

Waggener says there are other places in Wyoming along Interstate 80 that offer problems, such as the Summit between Laramie and Cheyenne, but nothing compares to that daunting 77-mile trip from Laramie to Walcott Junction.

We old-timers recall a famous CBS TV newsman named Charles Kuralt, whose specialty was traveling the country and reporting on out-of-the-way places.

He famously declared that the stretch from Laramie-Walcott Junction was “the worst stretch of interstate highway in America.”

Waggener says another myth was the mystery surrounding why the Wyoming Department of Transportation re-built a stretch of highway 30 between Bosler and near Rock River as a four-lane road?

He points out the road needed re-building and speculation was that WYDOT favored the U.S. 30 route for the new interstate highway and was making a statement by creating a four-lane stretch on Highway 30 back in the late 1960s.

Waggener also discloses the Union Pacific Railroad chose not to build along this route because of the wind and the snow.

He reveals studies, which explained why there are such vicious winds near the Elk Mountain area. Due to the gap next to the mountain being the lowest elevation of the Rocky Mountains, wind blows at abnormally high velocities as the air rushes through there, causing havoc in the roads and stirring up the large amounts of snow that pile up.

On a personal note, I have driven Interstate 80 for almost 50 years and I still avoid the Snow Chi Minh Trail stretch during extreme winter weather.

One reason is the horrible snow and wind. A second reason is the huge increase in truck traffic, which makes driving along that stretch a game of Russian roulette.

Perhaps a third reason is that I like visiting the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, which is one of the coolest places in the state.

About the only positive that Waggener pulls out of this discussion over the near half century of the Snow Chi Minh Trail’s existence is that the invention of the best snow fences in the world has resulted from this spectacular testing area.

The book is available from the Wyoming State Historical Society and fine stores around the state.

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 (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.”

Bill Sniffin: I-80 Whiteout Nightmare – Sunday Crash Kills 3 And Hurts 30

in Column/Bill Sniffin

By Bill Sniffin

Wyoming’s Interstate 80 has been a chilly highway to hell this winter.

Most recently, three people were killed and 30 more injured in a colossal string of collisions near Wamsutter that started Sunday evening. This has resulted in a long closure of the major highway which finally ended this morning.

Rawlins Publisher Ray Erku wrote an excellent article on the tragedy which included the following:

According to Carbon County Fire Warden Chief John Rutherford when asked to describe the carnage. “There’s really no words for it,” he said. “It’s just so unfortunate that these incidents happen, that we don’t seem to learn… we don’t seem to learn for our history. We drive on slick roads – we do that all the time – but it’s the fact that we drive too fast in rough conditions, we can’t see far enough, we don’t slow down enough that we can react to a problem to where we can get stopped or at least get off to the side of the road … and it compounds itself.”

Cowboy State Daily has been publishing a video of Sunday’s series of crashes involving dozens of huge semi-trailer trucks and a bunch of unfortunate automobiles.

According to Rutherford, the Carbon County Fire Department was called to the first crash at 3:42 p.m. on Sunday, near Creston Junction and Wamsutter. A second crash then occurred at 3:56 p.m. that day, at milepost 187. A series of crashes then took place at 4:25 p.m., at milepost 179.

Rutherford further said that assisting fire crews finally left the scene around 9:30 a.m. on Monday. Along with fire departments from Carbon and Sweetwater counties, Wyoming Highway Patrol as well as Sweetwater and Carbon County sheriff’s offices, fire departments from Wamsutter as well as Baggs were also called to assist.

On scene, first responders conducted triage efforts, where they started “cutting folks out of the vehicles.”

Rutherford was asked about the direct cause behind the massive pileup.

“My guess, talking to some of the county firemen,” Rutherford said, “poor visibility and slick roads.”

Erku’s news story continued: Following a massive pileup on Interstate 80 the city of Rawlins is currently dealing with an overflow of victims en masse.

According to Memorial Hospital of Carbon County spokesperson Stephanie Hinkle, as of early Monday afternoon 30 people have been treated in the hospital emergency room, two have been admitted and another two were scheduled for emergent surgeries, Erku reported.

“Upon arrival at the hospital, patients were initially triaged in the cafeteria due to the overflow,” Hinkle said. “Dr. Johnson, Dr. Hodde, Dr. Lumb, Dr. Rice and Dr. Abels were all on site as well as nurses from multiple departments. There were three fatalities and we have learned that one fatality occurred at the Rock Springs hospital.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday was when emergency services were called near mile markers 179 and 190, which are in close vicinity to Crescent Junction at the town of Wamsutter. Hinkle said the pileup, which involved more than 100 vehicles comprised of various tractor-trailers, trucks and cars, warranted a total of 10 ambulances, including EMT vehicles from MHCC as well as from the towns of Baggs, Wamsutter, Saratoga, Hanna, Castle Rock and Green River.

Along with ambulances, school buses from both Sweetwater and Carbon counties helped haul survivors to nearby shelters. According to Carbon County Emergency Manager Ron Brown, victims were taken to a Rawlins armory, where they were given cots, blankets and food supplies, according to. Erku’s news story in the Rawlins Times.

“We’ve got 10 folks right now as of this morning,” Brown told the Times early Monday afternoon.

Right before the local City Market grocery closed for the night on Sunday, Brown said they were contacted and immediately provided approximately 50 meals for the survivors. This includes items such as cold sandwiches, chicken, cookies, donuts, sports drinks and water, among other items. Brown also praised the efforts of the Rawlins Fire Department for bringing the items to the armory.

“They stood up to the plate and boy did they knock it out of the park,” Brown said.

Interstate 80 has been closed 54 times so far this winter and most of March and all of April and May remain. What a dangerous route this highway has become in winter conditions. 

Bill Sniffin: Who is the Trucker Who Video’d the Interstate 80 Crash?

in Column/Bill Sniffin

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Who is David Cuarezma?

Cuarezma is just a trucker who happened to keep his cool and video that recent horrific crash on Interstate 80 that killed four and injured 30 near Wamsutter. He recently posted on Facebook that his video has 500,000 views, 80,000 shares, and he has received more than 1,000 friend requests. He had 59 friends on FB prior to the posting the video Sunday.

He called Interstate 80 “the most dangerous road in the United State.”

The video worked to make both Cuarezma and Wyoming’s wintry roads famous. One of the first news outlets to post that video was Cowboy State Daily. It had more than 133 shares.

He is the proverbial flatlander being asked by his company to drive across towering Wyoming mountain passes during blizzards, icy roads, and blinding conditions. He is from Miami and lists himself as being from Managua, Managua, which I assume means Nicaragua.

The trucker wrote that he was hanging out at a truck stop near Wamsutter for two days already and his back hurts. He said the company wants him to keep driving even though his truck is damaged. “We refuse to drive a crashed trailer. Is not safe at all, so we are getting fired! Wow!”

We cannot verify any of this except that it is on his Facebook page and bunch of his friends and fellow truckers chimed in on the difficulty of the situation:

Sheali Locklear wrote: “My husband (a trucker) made a last minute decision to not take this route.”

Damon Haynes: “Interstate 80 in winter is no joke.”

Lisa Gardiner: “Devastating, thank the lord you walked away. Your work is obviously not done in the Lord’s eyes. God bring you peace. Can’t imagine what you’re dealing with in your mind right now.”

Brad Daniel: “No. It isn’t the most dangerous road. You morons need to learn how to drive.”

Melanie Hilderbrand: “You are right about Interstate 80. I think our state needs to just shut it down. This wasn’t the first pile up and it won’t be the last. Thanks for being concerned about everyone.”

Some spirited comments were made to the Cowboy State Daily Facebook page that were interesting:

Daniel Ballinger: “The problem is people STOP and then PARK on the highway in bad weather. Who does that? In February 1986 I helped get 200 plus cars off I-80 right near Lone Tree junction. Semis, Dump Trucks and about 200 cars just stopped and parked on the highway. I almost ran into them but was able to drive off road. The wind must have been blowing 60 mph in a White Out. PLEASE Keep in mind I wrote this post before watching the video. People never learn. I remember reading that 91% of all highway fatalities involve tractor trailers. It is simple physics. Passenger cars and trucks have no chance against Semi Trucks that weigh 60,000 to 80,000 lbs. Sad and unnecessary. Be careful out there.”

Patrick Sutton: “This is a terrible thing that plays out time and time again on Wyoming I-80 and I -25, Why? Because people are not used to the roads here in Wyoming. When the WYDOT signs say slow down; that means slow your speed down by 15 or 20 MPH not speed up 20 MPH because you have 18 wheels. Listen truckers: 18 wheels slide just as easily as 4. I want to pinpoint truckers because that is the root of the problem on the highways in Wyoming. I have seen truckers actually run vehicles off the road to save what, 15 seconds, ridiculous!!! We are a mile up people the weather is always going to be more unpredictable than at lower elevations. Wake Up Truckers!”

Steven Lazare: “One observation to make is that I’ve noticed so many foreign nationals driving who have no experience in long hall trucking in snowy weather. It takes years to gain experience. Driving schools don’t give enough warning and training to these relatively new people. I’ve seen pileups from Oregon to Iowa that have happened from lack of understanding when roads become slick or outside temps drop even during rain which alters the handling severely.”

Nina Trapp: “Telling people, especially truckers, to slow down is like talking to a brick wall. I am sick of this. I intend to write governor Gordon and I urge every Wyoming citizen to do the same thing.”

Jennifer Georges: “This tragedy has been repeated so many times on Wyoming’s Highways during the winter. What can we do to prevent this from happening over and over? Too many semi’s too close together. Cars, SUVs and small trucks can’t stand a chance when mixed with semi’s…”

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.

Three Killed in Wyoming I-80 Wreck, Highway Still Closed

in News

Three people were killed and a number of others were injured Sunday in two large wrecks on Interstate 80 west of Rawlins.

According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, more than 110 vehicles were involved in crashes in both lanes of the interstate about 27 miles west of Rawlins.

Sgt. Jeremy Beck, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said 80 to 100 vehicles were involved in the crash in westbound lanes of the interstate, while the second wreck, several miles away, involved 30 to 40 vehicles.

Troopers first received reports of the accidents Sunday afternoon, according to a Highway Patrol posting on Facebook.

Weather was reported to be a contributing factor in the accidents.

A continuing investigation into the accident and winter weather conditions forced the closure of Interstate 80 from Laramie to Rock Springs on Monday. Beck said the identities of the people killed in the crash could not be released until the investigation is complete.

The Highway Patrol estimated the highway would not open until Tuesday afternoon.

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.”

Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

in Column/Bill Sniffin

By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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