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Beartooth Highway Finally Reopens After 12 Days; 10-Foot Snow Drifts Cleared

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been 12 long days, but Beartooth Highway has opened up — again.

The most “beautiful highway in America,” as it’s been called, links the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, Montana.

Nearly two weeks ago, it opened up for the season. But it was only a cameo appearance.

Twenty four hours later it was closed again.

Winter came back. Big time.

Some sections of the highway had more than 10 feet of snow. Couple that with avalanches on the Montana side of the highway and a 12-day closure doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. 

Now, however, optimism is flowing.

“Now that temperatures are warming up, it should stay open for the rest of the summer,” said Cody Beers, a Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman.

No guarantees though as it has snowed every month out of the year on the highway.

“These types of storms aren’t unusual at all,” Beers said, noting that storms over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends are somewhat expected.

Despite the unpredictable weather, it’s a drive not to be missed, Beers said.

“It’s one of the most scenic views on the planet,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s worth the drive. If you’ve never driven it, you should.”

Beers said a highway like Beartooth could never be built today but back in the 1930s there was a tremendous push to open up a road to Yellowstone from Montana.  

“It was a herculean effort,” he said. “People look forward to it. It’s one of the greatest drives in our country.”

Twenty two miles of Beartooth Highway are located in Wyoming. But the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the road. That’s still a Yellowstone responsibility.

Beers said it’s what’s known as an “orphan road” — a road that exists within a state but another entity maintains it.

Beers mentioned that there are some ongoing closures, however. From Monday through Thursday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., the road is closed for construction. There are no closures Friday through Sunday.

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WYDOT Will Request Exemptions to Federal Electric Vehicle Charging Program

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

The future of electric vehicles is starting to take shape in Wyoming.

With $24 million available in federal funding through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, Wyoming is making plans for the construction of a network of electric charging stations in the near future, a state official said Wednesday.

During a meeting with the Legislature’s Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs Committee meeting, Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, gave an update on the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle draft strategy, which heavily incorporates the NEVI program. The update was similar to that given at town halls held across Wyoming in April to collect input on the proposed charging network.

The NEVI program mandates that a charging station be built every 50 miles along Wyoming’s interstate highways, which would mean, Reiner said, nearly 50 stations in Wyoming. 

Reiner mentioned a stretch on Interstate 90 between Gillette and Buffalo that he thought would not merit a station, and added there are a number of 50-mile stretches on the state’s interstates that lack gas stations.

Due to the inefficiency of building stations on those particularly empty stretches of Wyoming highways that don’t receive high traffic, Reiner said the state will appeal for an exemption from this requirement. 

To compensate, Reiner said he will ask that more stations be placed in high tourist areas surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, outside Devils Tower National Monument and around other high-traffic areas in eastern Wyoming.

The cost effectiveness of running an electric car station is also a major consideration for WYDOT, Reiner said.

Reiner said studies show the average charging station in Wyoming will receive 0.3 visits per day, far below the 36 visits per day needed for such stations to turn a profit.

“That’s a pretty austere requirement we hope to get some relief from,” Reiner said.

He said a typical charging station runs the provider about $10,000 per month in costs. He said four vehicles charging simultaneously would involve the same amount of energy used to power the 11-building WYDOT facility in Cheyenne.

Wyoming Gone Green?

Statistics provided by the Wyoming Department of Transportation show the state is hardly a bastion for electric vehicles at this time, with 477 vehicles registered statewide, the overwhelming majority in Teton and Laramie counties.

A full charge for most electrical vehicles using advanced charging technology now takes about 20 to 25 minutes, Reiner said, while an 80% charge can usually be achieved in 10 to 15 minutes. He said there are technologies on the way that will reduce these charging times in the future.

Reiner said attracting tourists will be one of the top benefits of the installation.

Each station will cost $500,000 to install. Federal funds will cover 80% of the cost while local monies will have to be used for the rest. 

Wyoming law forbids the state from spending money on electric vehicle infrastructure, so these funds will have to come from local counties, municipalities and private donors. 

The committee made no comments after the 30-minute presentation, but members did press Reiner to make sure the state isn’t the footing the bill for any of these projects.

Reiner did admit WYDOT will have to pay around $1,000 for a consultant on the program.

The NEVI is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by promoting the use of electric vehicles, however, Reiner said cutting emissions in Wyoming is a challenge because the state has little in the way of mass transit.

In addition, the state’s low population keeps its emissions low — in 2019, Wyoming produced the 17th least emissions in the U.S. at 49.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a 7.4% decline from the year before, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration information.

If the state moves ahead with the recharging station project, there will be other competitive grants the state cab apply for to help finance the stations, Reiner said.

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Delays Everywhere In Wyoming With 43 Road Construction Projects Ongoing

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As is often said, there are four seasons in Wyoming — Winter, late winter, early winter and construction.

And the construction season is well underway across the state, with 43 projects ongoing, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

According to the department’s road condition website many of the projects are taking place on Interstates 25, 80 and 90, although few should result in traffic delays. The delays that do occur will be the result of lane restrictions or reduced speed limits, the department said.

On Interstate 90, the department said some delays will occur in the area of a bridge repair project near Moorcroft and a paving project near Moorcroft.

Delays on Interstate 25 can be expected around a paving project between Kaycee and Casper, a bridge rehabilitation project in Casper and a bridge rehabilitation project north of Cheyenne.

On Interstate 80, delays can be expected near a bridge replacement project east of Cheyenne, a pavement marking project west of Cheyenne, rock work in Telephone Canyon west of Cheyenne, construction of new semitruck parking spaces at the Fort Steele Rest Area east of Sinclair,  a paving project at Elk Mountain and bridge rehabilitation work west of Rock Springs.

A number of projects are also underway on state and federal highways. Work causing delays in travel can be expected in the following areas:

U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming Highway 789 west of Cowley, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26/16 near Powell, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 120 between Cody and the Montana border, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 120 south of Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14/16/20 near Cody, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic;
U.S. Highway 14 east of Cody, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 16/20, Wyoming Highway 789 north of Thermopolis, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20, Wyoming Highway 789 north of Shoshoni, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 287 northwest of Lander, delays of up to 20 minutes with stopped traffic
U.S. Highway 26 west of Dubois, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 26, Wyoming Highway 287 between Dubois and Moran Junction, delays;
U.S. Highway 26/287 between Dubois and Moran Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 189/191/26/89 south of Jackson, delays of up to 20 minutes;
U.S. Highway 89 between Thayne and Alpine Junction, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 28 south of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 287, Wyoming Highway 789 south of Lander, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 20/26 west of Casper, delays of up to 20 minutes;
Wyoming Highway 220 north of Rawlins, delays of up to 15 minutes;
U.S. Highway 85 between Lingle and Lusk, expect delays, and
Wyoming Highway 211 north of Cheyenne, expect delays.

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Wyoming Rest Areas Busy As They Reopen on Friday

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The cars and trucks have not stopped coming to the Chugwater rest area since it reopened early Friday morning. Even before its entry gates went up at 6 a.m. for the first time in nearly a year, two trucks and horse trailers were lined up waiting. 

Since then, the visits have not slowed, according to LaCynda Fortik, who manages the contract for the reopened facility. 

The Chugwater rest area was one of 10 around the state that closed last June due to budget cuts implemented by Governor Mark Gordon, a move that saved the state roughly $200,000. 

As of Friday morning, nine of those reopened, including those at or near:

Lusk on U.S. Highway 18
Guernsey on U.S. Highway 26
Greybull on U.S. Highway 16
Moorcroft on Interstate 90
Star Valley on U.S. Highway 89
Sundance on Interstate 90
Upton on U.S. Highway 16
Orin Junction on Interstate 25, and
Chugwater on Interstate 25

Only the Fort Steele rest area off 1-80 will remain closed, according to Doug McGee, public affairs manager for WYDOT.

McGee said the rest area is closed because of a large construction project in the vicinity currently underway to expand truck parking by about 200 parking spots to provide refuge for drivers in inclement weather when the interstate shuts down. The project is scheduled to be complete by fall of 2022, when the rest area will reopen, McGee said.

Getting the rest of the shuttered rest areas up and running in time for summer tourist season was a priority for the office of Gov. Mark Gordon. Gordon tasked WYDOT to partner with Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) to appropriate available federal funding to make it happen.

“We wanted to show the world that Wyoming is open for business,” McGee said, “and we wanted to help people feel welcome.”

McGee said the department is in the process of applying for funding from multiple sources. The goal is to keep the rest areas open through Sept. 30, if not longer. Ideally, the state will find funding to keep them open year-round. 

Overhead electronic signs on 1-25 this morning advertised the newly opened rest areas throughout the state, and Fortik noted it was effective advertising.

“It’s so busy,” she said, taking a brief break from duties Friday morning. “That place has not stopped since the gates went up.”

Mostly, it’s been vehicles with out-of-state license plates and a lot of snowbirds making their way back home, she said. 

Maintaining the rest areas keeps Fortik and other contractors hopping from dust to dawn. They’re responsible for removing and disposing of all trash, litter and weeds on the grounds, cleaning the walks and parking area, as well as maintaining the restroom facilities and mowing the grounds, among other duties.

Fortik estimated that she and her small crew of helpers stop by the rest area three to four times a day for a minimum of three-to-four hours per day. 

Mowing is by far the hardest job to keep up on, she said, though she makes it her business to keep the rest area looking clean because in her experience, she’s found that people are much more likely to respect a clean facility than a dirty one. 

McGee did not have current figures on what it will cost to maintain the nine rest areas for the four-month season, though based on last year’s figures, the costliest one to run was the rest area off 1-25 at Orin Junction at $10,324 per month.

Chugwater came in second at just under $9,873, while the Star Valley rest area was the cheapest to maintain at $1,449 per month.

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