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Wyoming roads

Clark, Wyoming Records Hurricane Category 3 Gust of 118mph; Roads Closed Again

in weather
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It was a bit blustery in Wyoming on Saturday and Sunday, but unless you were in Clark in northern Park County, anything you experienced pales in comparison.

The community some 30 miles north of Cody got blasted by a Hurricane Category 3 gust with winds hitting 118 mph.

Everywhere was relatively calm, by comparison.

Casper did record a gust of 76 mph which makes it only a Category 1 hurricane (and barely at that).

Regardless, winds were whipping all over the Cowboy State  on Saturday on Sunday with many other communities recording gusts of over 60 and 70 mph.

As a result, large sections of both Interstates 80 and 25  were closed.

Outside of Evanston, Wyoming semi-trucks were backed up for miles on Sunday morning waiting for the interstate to re-open.



While it looked cold, frozen, and closed on Interstate 80 in far western Wyoming, it looked quite different 400 miles east near the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

There it was brown and wide-open. The only thing similar in both locations was the seemingly ever-present wind which is a constant companion in Wyoming’s winter months.



As usual the areas near Arlington and Cooper Cove on Interstate 80 between Laramie and Rawlins were not conducive to travel.

Photos from the webcams on Sunday morning in those locations showed long lines of trucks playing the same waiting game.



The Facebook page “Wyoming Road and Weather Conditions Reports Updates” was active on Sunday morning with motorists exchanging information about the road conditions in their areas and advising others on strategies to take.

One commenter said stay put if you can.

“Today will be a mess because of the unleashing of everyone who’s been stuck. If you have the means and ability, wait an additional day and stay out of the mass rush,” Clint Christensen said.

Others were trying to help those who were less fortunate. One couple lost their dog after they were involved in an accident.

“Anyone who maybe traveling I80 please keep your eyes open,” Teresa Leroux said. “This is Yogi. He and his owners were in a roll-over on Thursday near Rawlins at mile marker 209. 

“He is still missing and we are praying for the best and hoping someone may see him. If you do please contact me. He maybe wearing a pink coat,” she said.



For the latest road and travel information, visit the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s webpage or download WYDOT’s 511 app.

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Wyoming “Off-Track” When It Comes To Road Safety, Mental Health

in News/Transportation/Health care
File photo
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is off-track when it comes to roadway safety and mental health services, a recent National Safety Council summary concluded.

In the NSC’s state of the response executive summary, the organization analyzed how well the 50 states protected their citizens during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The report assessed state efforts in five key areas: employer guidelines, testing, contact tracing, mental health and substance use and roadway safety.

Wyoming was considered one of the 10 off-track states, which also included Florida, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Mississippi and South Dakota received the lowest overall rating.

Wyoming also was singled out as being off-track when it came to roadway safety (alongside Montana, both of the Dakotas and Massachusetts) and for addressing mental health issues (alongside other states such as South Dakota, Alabama, South Carolina and Kansas).

Only 12 states received an “on-track” rating, which included California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois. The other 29 states were considered “lagging.”

Although the pandemic has claimed more lives than accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle collisions and falls combined, the state of response report uncovered “an inconsistent approach that has jeopardized safety due to the pandemic’s impact on issues such as addiction, traffic and workplace safety.

The NSC provided recommendations for states to improve their scores, such as ensuring access to medically-necessary treatments, including the availability of behavioral health services and substance use disorder treatment through telehealth and continuing focus on improving the safety of roads.

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WYDOT Spends 30% of Budget to Keep Wyoming Roads Clear During Winter

in News/Transportation
2937

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.”

What’s your take? Cowboy State Daily readers respond to traffic fatality story

in Transportation/Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming road fatalities
1787

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

My column about the increased danger on Wyoming roads this year generated some interesting responses from people around the state.

In that column it was pointed out that fatalities on Wyoming highway by Aug. 1 titled 92 compared to just 57 a year ago (in the intervening 10 days that number has climbed to 98). Why has it spiked so much?  My column (published on Cowboy State Daily) laid out some examples and possible reasons. Here is a collection of comments from some other folks around the state:

Vince Tomassi, Kemmerer-Diamondville:

“If the speed limit is 70, I get passed regularly by people going I would estimate 80-plus.Same for the 80 MPH sections (of Interstate 80), people are going 90. I agree with your friend about distracted drivers with cell phones, texting and driving.”

Jean Haugen, Lander:

“I have never seen the fatalities so bad, even back when my dad was a Patrolman.  A lot of the time, fatalities around here are either lack of wearing a seatbelt or falling asleep at the wheel and crashing. Wyoming used to have the reputation of having the best highways in the U.S.   It is very concerning.  It was certainly sad about those two ladies being killed that were from Riverton.”

Susan Gore, Cheyenne:

“Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak cites striking Colorado statistics, re: THC marijuana increasing traffic fatalities. THC alters time-distance perception even after the high is gone.  That is a difference from alcohol. His tragic Wyoming example is a high school senior with great life prospects going home after a graduation party.  Brian was there.”

Tucker Fagan, Cheyenne:

“I agree with Steve Peck’s editorial about information screens in cars (that was reprinted in the column). The Air Force uses displays on the wind screen to keep the pilot’s eyes outside the cockpit. Saw this several years ago on vehicles I rented but the technology has not achieved widespread use. Also since Alexa, etc. can do so many things, voice activation should be incorporated in vehicles.”

 Geoff O’Gara, Lander:

“A couple of thoughts about the rising death tolls on the roads. I think we all agree that drivers are often distracted by social media devices, even when they are specifically to aid drivers, like route mapping. Quite a few years ago I was driving back from work at PBS in Riverton and a driver swerved out of the busy opposite lane and right across my path – she went off the opposite shoulder, lucky for me she didn’t try to recover or it would have been a head-on. From the way her head bobbed up, I’m quite sure she was looking down at a screen, or else asleep.”

Here are two other elements to consider, and I’m guessing there are studies out there that I’m too lazy to look for:

1. “The ridiculously big and growing vehicles that so many people drive these days, in our comfort-seeking over-indulgence – for tourists, sometimes rental RVs much bigger than what you normally drive at home. As a bicyclist, watching them weave around, I’m terrified.

2. “The aging American population, and the enormous number of retired oldsters with the wealth to wander around the highways. The driver in the Grand Teton crash was 65. The victims were even older. I’m in my 60s now and my reflexes aren’t all they used to be. Cognitively, older folks process more slowly, and may focus less intently. “It’s dangerous out there! Take the train! (Bring passenger trains back to Wyoming!)”

John Davis, Worland

“I think the usual reason for variation in highway deaths is simple statistical variation.  That is, when you have a large number of random events, there will always be a substantial variation of incidents, simply from the nature of the randomness of chances.  Sometimes you can trace the fact, of, say, extra highway deaths, to specific causes, but not usually.”

Phil White, Laramie:

“It is good you are calling attention to the carnage on the highways.  I’m hearing more and more often from various people, especially about the Front Range madness, that the roads are simply no longer capable of handling the traffic.  They cannot be upgraded fast enough to maintain even a minimal level of safety for a population growing so fast.

“I’m sure you are right about the distractions inside cars.  More important than motorhomes, I would think, is the explosion in the past 15 years of semis on Interstate 80.  Every time I do a casual count I find that semis account for about half of the vehicles on Interstate 80 and there have been a lot of wrecks involving semis.  One of them coming out of Telephone Canyon and onto the flats south of Laramie several years ago plowed into a vehicle stopped in a line of cars because of a previous accident between grand avenue exit and 3rd street exit.  Four members of one family were all wiped out in that one.  Even big heavy SUVs and pickups are no match for semis.  At 80 mph they have no chance to avoid collisions and their mass magnifies the damages.

“As to alcohol, I’ve been trying for years to get (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and other parties to push the Legislature to prohibit drive-up liquor store windows.  I believe I read that Wyoming is the only state that still allows drive-up windows.  It’s an easy way for liquor dealers to avoid the responsibility to not sell alcohol to someone who, if made to walk inside, would display obvious impairment.  (Of course the Legislature and the Supreme Court also have refused for years to create “dramshop law” liability for liquor dealers who sell to obviously impaired adults.  As the law now stands, a liquor store owner cannot be held responsible for a drunk driver killing another motorist, even if the liquor dealer sells liquor to and then helps the buyer get into his car because he can barely even walk).

“As to speed, I am always amazed when the Legislature raises the speed limit.  Even before the recent increases it was already well established that at night going 70 mph it is almost impossible for a vehicle to stop in time after an object becomes visible in the headlights.  When they raise the limit they are simply saying ‘We are willing to sacrifice a few hundred lives or a thousand lives over time to save everybody else a few minutes in getting to their destination.’

“I often think of John Muir’s observation after touring Yellowstone in the late 1800s from his Our National Parks (1917): ‘The regular trips–from three to five days–are too short.  Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day.  The multitude of mixed, novel impressions rapidly piled on one another make only a dreamy, bewildering, swirling blur, most of which is unremembered.’”

Larry Wolfe, Cheyenne:

“I just rode my bike on 365 miles of the State’s road (a bit of that in MT). Those of us on bikes are scared to death of distracted drivers there were many stories of close calls. Good for you for bringing attention to this.”

Federal bill would help Wyoming’s highway maintenance

in News/Transportation
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Proposed federal legislation could bring millions of federal dollars to Wyoming to help the state maintain its highways.

The Fixing American Surface Transportation Act — called the FAST Act — is a $287 billion highway transportation package that just cleared a U.S. Senate committee by a vote of 21-0. The bill calls for a 27 percent increase in funding for the nation’s highways over the next five years.

Wyoming now receives about $285 million in federal money per year to maintain its highways. The FAST Act would increase that funding by 2 percent in the bill’s first year and by 1 percent each year for the following four.

Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said the extra cash would be a benefit for Wyoming, given shortfalls it sees now in highway funds.

“We’re about $135 million short in unfunded needs per year …” he said. “So certainly the 2 percent, 1 percent you talk about would add $15 million or $20 million. That would certainly go toward our focus on maintaining our infrastructure.

The act would also streamline some regulations the department must now comply with, Reiner said, such as required traffic congestion studies.

“It’s in the federal rule that says we need to count the cars … somewhere between Casper and Cody at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a good use of our time. We do not have a congestion issue like other states and communities.”

Wyoming already pays three times the national average per person to maintain its roads, Reiner said, due in part to its low population and also to the amount of traffic on interstate highways coming from other states.

“It’s a national road and we certainly pay to maintain it,” he said. “The federal money we get goes directly to that.”

Wyoming’s Legislature this year approved a 3 cent boost in gasoline taxes that is expected to raise about $13 million a year for highway work.

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