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Wyoming transportation

Wind River Canyon Cleanup & Construction To Cause Significant Delays

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The trip between Shoshoni and Thermopolis could take an extra hour in the next two to four weeks due to last weekend’s Wind River Canyon rock slide and the start of a road project in the area.

Cody Beers, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said the rock slide last week allowed the department to start work early on a slide stabilization project near Shoshoni, but added the combined projects, along with a paving project near Shoshoni could add 30 to 45 minutes to a trip in the canyon.

“We’ve had to mobilize in our subcontractor because of the rock slide that happened Saturday night, and the relative instability of the area above the road,” he said. 

Beers noted that it took two loaders four hours on Saturday night just to make the roadway passable due to the massive amount of debris that fell around 7 p.m., so several days will be required for a full cleanup of the area.

“So that’s going to probably take a week, and it’s going to add to the cost of that slide stabilization project through Wind River Canyon,” he said. “But it’s great that we’ve already got a contractor there and we can just do a change order and add to their scope of work.”

Put On Climbing Gear

Oftedal Construction of Casper is the primary contractor overseeing a project that will remove other loose rock from the side of the canyon to mitigate further slides that might impact traffic. Its subcontractor Midwest Rockfall, Inc. began work Tuesday, April 26, to scale smaller pieces of rock from the canyon wall which otherwise might fall onto traffic lanes. 

“They will put climbing gear on and then go right up on the rocks and push loose rocks off,” Beers said. “They’ve got experienced climbers that go up there with a pole and they try to move every loose rock off.”

Some of the originally planned rockfall mitigation work includes installing rock bolts, repairing existing rock fence and installation of new rock mesh.

But Beers said the subcontractor’s work will now include emergency work at the rock slide which closed the highway Saturday evening. 

“There’s several really big pieces of rock that are now loose after what happened Saturday,” he pointed out. “And so we’re going to move all that rock that fell Saturday out of there first so that we can drop those big rocks off the edge of the asphalt – because if we dropped those big rocks on the asphalt, then we’re going to have to rebuild the roadway in those areas.” 

Specialists Needed

Beers pointed out that contractors are hired for this specific scope of work because the Wyoming Department of Transportation doesn’t have the equipment or the expertise to handle a project of this type.

“If it’s an occasional rock, or some smaller rocks that come down, we are able to move those off the road either with one of our loaders or a snowplow,” Beers said. “But when we’re talking the breadth of rockfall that happened, and then the aftermath of the rock slide and what’s still up on the hill that’s now loose and needs to come off, that’s where we have to enlist the experts.”

At the same time, southeast of Wind River Canyon, asphalt paving is scheduled to begin this week on a little over 8 miles of U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshoni and the Wind River Canyon.

“So if you hit it the wrong time, you’re going to end up with stop delays of 40 minutes plus,” Beers said. “In some instances it could add an hour to your drive between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.”

“They’re going to be working as fast as the weather will allow them to work,” he added.  

Safer Experience

In the end, though, Beers pointed out that the results of the work will mean a safer traveling experience through the Wind River Canyon.

“We’ve had trooper vehicles get hit by rocks, or they were blocking rock slides in there,” he said. “We’ve had our own engineers in there that had to run out of the way of rock slides. And so we did these scaling projects to hopefully get ahead of the curve and make the whole corridor more safe.”

Beers predicted that the delays caused by the two projects between Shoshoni and Thermopolis will last for a few weeks.

“It’s probably going to be like this for probably two to four weeks depending on the weather, and how quickly the contractor is able to get in there and do the work.”

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Powell Students Clear Wind River Canyon Rock Slide; WYDOT Not Thrilled

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A group of Powell students helped clear debris from a rock slide along the narrow canyon highway between Shoshoni and Thermopolis that brought traffic to a standstill for four hours on Saturday.

However, some are questioning the wisdom of the action given the instability of the mountainsides above the highway.

“You know, that was totally on their own, and we would not recommend that,” said Cody Beers, a public information specialist for the Wyoming Department of Trasportation. “Now, I’m glad it all went well, and I’m glad they were able to get through there safely. But at that point, it was a fairly volatile situation. There could have been more rocks that could have come down.” 

According to reports, the rock slide just north of the three tunnels over U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshone and Thermopolis brought traffic on the highway to a halt. Photos taken by travelers showed a large amount of debris spread across both lanes of traffic.

Beers told Cowboy State Daily that the department received the initial call about the rock slide at about 7 p.m. Loaders were sent from both sides of the slide and had the road open again by about 11:15 p.m.

“And we ended up with five people out there Saturday night, and we got it cleaned out,” he said.

Included among the vehicles stopped on the road was a bus carrying members of Powell’s soccer team home after a meet.

“Standing O”

Witnesses said students got out of the bus and began moving some of the rocks to allow some traffic to pass.

Michele Hampton said she was traveling with her daughter, a member of the Powell girls varsity soccer team, a few vehicles behind the bus from Powell and one from Worland when they came upon the slide.

“We went through the three tunnels,” said Hampton. “And I saw the Powell Panthers, they were there pulling the rocks up, and I got there at the tail end of that.”

Hampton posted words of praise and a photo of the Worland bus working its way through the path cleared by the Powell students on social media Saturday.

“I just want to give a standing ‘O’ to the Powell Panther Soccer boys major rock slide coming through Wind River Canyon,” she wrote. “These boys pulled boulders off the highway so cars could get through! All people and kids are safe.”

Comments responding to Hampton’s post regarding the boys’ actions were largely positive, with several, such as Chris Brewer, also a parent to one of the students, joining Hampton in expressing pride in the young people for helping others.

“I’m also glad our young men were able to assist on their own accord,” she wrote. “No one forced them to do anything. Most other men wouldn’t have hesitated to jump in. They make a great team. Glad they got to move through the canyon vs. sitting ducks in the canyon for hours or the drive around route which would have been treacherous as well.” 

“Extremely Unsafe”

Others, while praising the students, said their actions might have been ill-advised.

“I do think that it was a highly commendable thought to help out the way that our Powell students did in regards to the slide,” said Chad Eagleton, also the parent of a Powell student. “However, they’re at a school function and the school is 100% responsible for their safety and how many were 18 and over? There was nobody qualified to say that scene was safe. It was extremely unsafe.”

Eagleton said the adults accompanying the athletes should have prevented them from putting themselves in harm’s way.

“I really do love that the kids’ first thought was to help,” Eagleton said, “but they do not have agency to make those decisions and neither does the school.”

Beers said when confronted with a rock slide, the best thing to do is leave the debris alone, since the mountainside that spawned the slide can still be unstable.

“The best bet when you encounter a rockslide is to not move rocks out of the way because there may be another event coming, you know, we just don’t know the stability of a canyon wall at that point,” he said. 

The Wind River Canyon is the only option for travelers to get from the north-central part of the state to get to the southern half, so when the canyon closes due to winter weather or rock slides, it causes a major snag.

“I’ve heard the old-timers say this for years – we’re only really one bad rock slide away from an extended closure of Wind River Canyon,” Beers said.

Thankful No One Was Hurt

Beers said continued rock slides in the future are guaranteed.

“Man cut his way through that canyon and created a highway,” he said. “And so we disrupted whatever natural things were there, and so the rocks are going to come down – I mean, it’s basic gravity. 

“Because when the ground freezes, it contracts, and when it thaws it expands, and that causes movement of rocks and dirt, and then you get weather and you have the possibility of having either a rock slide or mudslide,” he added. 

And because of the geography and geology of the canyon, Beers said the issues there will always exist.

“I don’t think that there’s enough money or enough manpower or enough engineering to keep us from ever having a problem in Wind River Canyon,” Beers said. “It’s about 10 miles of road through there that can be very beautiful and breathtaking, and very treacherous and dangerous. It looks peaceful in there, but it’s anything but peaceful.”

Because rock slides happen randomly, Beers urged travelers to proceed with caution through Wind River Canyon, and be aware that what happened Saturday could happen again at any time.

Beers said he as also thankful none of the students were hurt.

“I’m just thankful that nothing happened while they were there,” he said. “But you know, as a parent, that’s the last thing I’d want my son doing, is cleaning rocks off a road at the bottom of where a rock slide just happened.” 

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Experts Question ‘Green’ Claims For Electric Vehicles

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Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

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By Scott McClallen, The Center Square

Some experts this Earth Day are questioning whether electric vehicles (EV) are actually as environmentally friendly as initially claimed by automakers and government officials.

In the words of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s automakers are speeding to an “all-electric future,” despite looming supply chain issues, chip shortages, and a possible battery shortage.

Last week, Rivian Automotive CEO RJ Scaringe warned reporters of a potentially looming shortage of raw materials essential to manufacturing EV batteries, which he added could be a more significant problem than the current computer-chip shortage.

“Put very simply, all the world’s cell production combined represents well under 10% of what we will need in 10 years,” Scaringe said last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Meaning, 90% to 95% of the supply chain does not exist,” he added.

Widespread EV adoption would require rare earth minerals, including cobalt, lithium, and nickel, which are in short supply in the United States. Importing the minerals, moreover, sparks ethical questions as rare earth minerals extraction overseas often involves child slave labor and can damage the environment.

The world’s top lithium producers are South America, where Argentina and Chile provide 93% of U.S. lithium. Amnesty International reports thousands of child laborers mine cobalt for lithium batteries. Additionally, a Guardian report noted that children as young as six work in the mines.

While they don’t guzzle gas, a single Tesla requires seven kilograms of lithium for its battery pack, which requires an energy-intensive extraction from the brine of salt flats that can damage the environment and cause water shortages, such as in Chile’s Atacama and Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto regions, Ronald J. Deibert explains in his book “Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for a Civil Society.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces most of the world’s cobalt, child slaves often work in the mines. 

While there are only 456 registered electric vehicles in Wyoming, Michigan has 13,545 EVs. That sounds like a big difference but Michigan also has 5.8 million gas vehicles. Yet, the Great Lakes State has dumped more than $1 billion into EV subsidies.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Michiganders should consider the “full environmental impact” of EVs.

“Electric vehicles are promoted as the more environmentally friendly choice, because the ratings often only consider CO2 emissions from the tailpipe,” Hayes said in a statement.

“But EVs have their share of CO2 embedded in their manufacturing processes and they use six times more mineral than conventional vehicles – many of which have to be mined, processed and then imported from developing nations,” he said.

“EVs will also put tremendous stresses on our increasingly fragile and weather-dependent electric grid. It’s time for government to stop caving to green special interests and honestly inform consumers about the full environmental impact of electric vehicles.”

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Snow Storm Leads to Three Semi Rollovers, Two Jackknifed Semis In Campbell County

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

One semi-trucker rollover a shift is enough to keep firefighters busy, let alone five in one day.

Wind gusts, blowing snow, cold temperatures and icy road conditions are being partly to blame for the three rollovers and two jackknifed semi-trucks on 1-90 and other roadways in Campbell County, with three in less than two hours between 10 a.m. and noon.

Nobody was seriously injured in any of the crashes.

It was the most that Bryan Borgialli, Battalion Chief for the Campbell County Fire Department, had ever been on in one day.

“The roads were nothing but a sheet of ice,” Borgialli  told Cowboy State Daily Thursday. “Probably some of the worst roads we’ve ever been on.”

He almost got hit on one of the calls when a car came speeding over the hill and braked too abruptly when they saw the flashing lights. He’s been hit once already in the same conditions, he said, when he first joined the force 19 years ago. 

“I didn’t need to do that again,” he said.

The icy road conditions also slowed them down as well to speeds between 40 to 50 mph as they attempted to attend to the accidents.

Two of the wrecks occurred on 1-90 near Gillette while the others were on South Highway 59 and Highway 50, the latter of which forced the roadway closed for several hours to clear one semi that had jackknifed around noon.

He’s not a crash expert, he said, but thought that the accidents had more to do with traveling at low speeds and being tipped over.

“The roads were treacherous but pretty deceiving,” he said, especially given last week’s temperate weather that he thinks tends to make people more complacent this time of year.

That and overestimating the road conditions.

“People should make the decision if they really need to travel or not,” he said. And if so, he urged drivers to reduce their speed and be on the lookout for emergency vehicles.

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More Than One-Third Of Wyoming’s Electric Vehicles In Teton County; Three Counties Have Zero

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than one-third of the electric cars in Wyoming are registered in Teton County, according to state figures.

Figures from the Wyoming Department of Transportation show that of the 456 electric cars registered in Wyoming, 161, 35.3%, are in Teton County.

The high number of the electric vehicles in Teton County is the result of several factors, including the commitment of the county’s residents to protecting the environment, said Phil Cameron, executive director for Energy Conservation Works of Jackson Hole, a group that promotes alternative energy sources in the region.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, a vehicle is a personal choice,” he said. “So there’s some alignment of values with the benefits personally and environmentally of electric vehicles.”

The figures on electric vehicle ownership in Wyoming were prepared by WYDOT in advance of hearings on its plans to encourage the creation of a network of electric vehicle charging stations along the state’s interstate highways.

According to the the figures, Laramie County has the second-highest number of EVs in the state at 106, about 23.7%. That means Teton and Laramie counties have more than half of the state’s electric vehicles at 266.

Albany County placed third for electric vehicle ownership at 42, followed by Natrona County at 34 and Sweetwater County at 29. Only three counties, Big Horn, Crook and Niobrara, have no electric vehicles.

Cameron’s organization works to promote alternative fuel uses throughout the region, including the use of electric vehicles. It has been involved with efforts to encourage the construction of electric vehicle charging stations throughout Teton County, which he said also figured into the popularity of EVs.

“In order to support those choices, there’s been a lot of groundwork that has been laid by local organizations,” he said. “We broke the ‘chicken and the egg’ cycle by providing public charging at a higher (charging speed) than wold be available at home.”

Since Jackson, Teton County and private businesses began setting up charging stations, Cameron said, visitors from outside the area have been using them more often.

“We can really track the use of those public stations,” he said. “We have several hundred unique users. That tells us it’s not just local users, it’s people who are starting to access national parks (with electric vehicles).”

He added that rising gasoline costs have also boosted the interest in electric cars, given the fact that a 100-mile trip in an electric car might cost $1.75, while the same trip in a gasoline-powered vehicle might cost $20.

“We see adoption rates intersecting with the fuel rates in a very causal relationship,” he said. “As we get to $5 (per gallon) petroleum costs, we see a huge uptick in the adoption of alternatives.”

The draw for the buyer of electric vehicles in Laramie County is slightly different than for those in Teton County, said Kevin Harris, general manager for Ken Garff Cheyenne, which includes Ford, Toyota and Hyundai dealerships.

“What I see is customers who are interested in the latest and greatest technologies,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the green message. There’s so much amazing technology.”

Harris said most of the electric car buyers in Laramie County seem to be using EVs as second cars rather than primary sources of transportation.

“It might be different if we lived in a metro area where people travel and live within a 20- or 30-mile radius,” he said.

He added demand for the fully electric vehicles is growing, as evidenced by 100 reservations made by people wishing to buy Ford’s F-150 “Lightning” pickup truck, a vehicle that is not yet available.

He added that while the construction of a network of charging stations will help ease “range anxiety” that might discourage some from buying the vehicles, the driving force for sales in the future will be fact that younger drivers will simply be more comfortable with the technology.

“I think we’ve got another generation of drivers coming up who are starting to drive these vehicles and this is not new technology to them,” he said.

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State Sen. Says 15 Cent Fuel Tax Increase Needed To Fix Roads, Crumbling Bridges

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A bill proposing a 15-cent per gallon increase in gas taxes over the next three years would help the state meet its basic highway maintenance needs, according to one of its sponsors.

House Bill 14, if approved by the Legislature, would raise Wyoming’s fuel taxes for the first time since 2013.

The state’s fuel tax is currently 24 cents per gallon and it would increase to 39 cents per gallon by 2025 under the bill, which is being sponsored by the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee.

The increase would raise an additional $67.4 million per year by 2025.

The bill is awaiting introduction in Wyoming’s House. Should it not be introduced by Friday, it will be dead for this session.

The state’s current tax on gas pumped within Wyoming’s borders is not even close to raising the amount necessary to adequately address maintenance needs, said Sen. Bill Landen, co-chair of the Transportation Committee.

“You know, my dad’s generation, when he pulled up to the pump in Wyoming in 1969, he paid 25 cents for a gallon of gas – and out of that, seven cents went back to the highways,” Landen recalled. “I think that’s somewhere around 28% to 30%. So today, let’s just say we’re paying $3 for a gallon of gas — it would be just 24 cents in taxes that go back to maintain those roads.” 

As a generation, Landen pointed out that today’s residents are not putting money into the state’s coffers proportionate to what’s needed to maintain the state’s highway infrastructure.

“Our bridges are showing it, and if you talk with our contractors in our communities out there, they will tell you that the reckoning is coming,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of deterioration there. We’ve had sinkholes that have begun to appear, and the caution I get from some of our contractors in Casper, for example, is that we’re only going to see more.” 

An increase in the fuel tax would help to alleviate the funding deficit that the state’s highway department is currently facing. 

A similar bill was proposed in 2021 and at the time, WYDOT Public Affairs Manager Doug McGee told Cowboy State Daily that the department was facing a shortfall of about $354 million in unfunded needs per year. 

“Certainly, this fuel tax is very much needed to maintain our roads and bridges – our transportation system – to the level that Wyoming citizens expect,” McGee said at the time.

However, HB14 may not have the support necessary to even be introduced this session.

“You know, some may or may not support a gas tax when it’s all said and done – if that bill were to move forward at 5 cents per year, I’m not sure I would,” said Landen. “But it is at least a consideration.”

That 5 cents per year is also concerning to the Wyoming Trucker’s Association. 

Sheila Foertsch, the association’s managing director, said that while the group supports an increase in the fuel tax, the amount of the proposed increase would be a hardship.

“We are supportive of a fuel tax increase,” she said. “And the last time, in 2013, when the fuel tax was increased 10%, we were right there – because we do feel that funding is necessary for our highway systems. That’s where the trucking industry’s jobs happen, on the highways, and we need safe, efficient highways in this state.”

WYDOT Director Luke Reiner has noted that for every dollar not spent on preventative maintenance on roadways, $4 to $8 will be required for complete highway reconstruction down the road.

“We need to make sure that (the highways) are properly maintained and supported, and we certainly believe that a fuel tax makes the most sense at this point for funding the highway system,” Foertsch said. However, she added the association does not support the currently proposed 15 cent increase, even though it’s intended to be phased in over a three year period. “Our current position is a six cent increase phased in over three years.” 

However, Foertsch noted that while a fuel tax increase might solve a financial problem in the near future, it might not be the right answer down the road.

“There is a growing concern that fuel taxes are not sustainable, because of electric vehicles, and other types of fuel vehicles that are coming,” she said. “And we’re going to see more of them all the time, but for the short term, fuel taxes make the most sense. They’re easy to collect. There’s not another bureaucracy that needs to be dealt with, and they’re fairly inexpensive to collect. So that’s why we continue to be supportive of fuel taxes.”

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Chief Joseph Scenic Byway Gets Facelift

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is the best state to visit for scenic vistas and wide open spaces. And the highways that let visitors take in those views provide some of the best sightseeing opportunities in the world.

But every once in a while, even the road to paradise needs some repairs.

And the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway northwest of Cody is nearing the end of an extensive repair effort.

About two years ago, a portion of the steep mountainside along the highway began sliding downhill and crews scrambled to make the road safe for travelers headed to either Red Lodge, Montana, or the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone.

It’s not been an easy task. 

Back in 2017, a portion of the hill on which switchbacks wind their way down to Sunlight Basin from Dead Indian Pass began sloughing, causing significant damage to the road also known as Wyoming Highway 296. A year later, that same area slipped, damaging the roadway further. 

In 2020, road crews were able to begin the reconstruction process, which will be finalized this month. That’s according to Cody Beers, public information specialist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“There will be some short delays through May,” Beers explained. “As the road is being built, it will be paved; and then in June, it will be chip sealed. And after that it should be wide open for travelers.”

The road hasn’t been completely closed since the slide began – highway officials have been able to keep at least one lane of traffic open safely to facilitate travelers who come to see the unbeatable views from the 8,070-foot summit of Dead Indian Pass. 

And the stretch of road that is being repaired is just two-tenths of one mile — although the price to fix it ($5.8 million) belies its length. 

Although the roadway damage hasn’t posed a danger to motorists, the construction job has seen its share of tragedy. In October of 2018, a construction worker drove his huge haul truck off the edge of the cliff, resulting in his death. An investigation by the Wyoming Highway Patrol revealed that the driver had abused methamphetamines prior to getting behind the wheel.

By the end of June, Beers said the highway will be back to “normal” for the first time in more than four years.

“There won’t be any major delays,” Beers predicted. “But people will be stopped at traffic signals – there will be traffic signals on each end. But 5-minute delays at the most.”

And Beers pointed out that if drivers have to be stopped for traffic delays, the top of Dead Indian Pass is not a bad place to pause.

“We encourage people to enjoy the scenery,” he said.

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Wyoming Toll Road Bill Dies Again; Will Be Studied During Interim

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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A controversial bill that could have generated funds for Wyoming highways has died in a legislative committee.

Senate File 73, which would have created a revenue stream to maintain the heavily-traveled interstate which runs from east to west across Wyoming, had passed the Senate in a 16-13 vote before being presented to the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs committee.

The committee, last week, voted to table the bill, effectively ending its viability in this year’s legislative session.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is facing a severe shortfall in funding, along with the rest of the state’s budgets. WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told Cowboy State Daily that their financing is not tied to the state’s general fund – so any revenue source carries significant weight.

“Our sources of revenue are primarily fuel tax, vehicle registration, and then the state does provide thankfully, an amount of federal mineral royalty severance taxes,” he said in an interview in March.

But those revenues don’t add up to enough to close a $354 million dollar funding gap – which could mean that future road projects and maintenance fall by the wayside, ultimately affecting the state’s economy.

“Everything we do in the state rides on our roads,” Reiner pointed out. “Everything we do goes from point A to point B, connecting communities, and improving the lives of our residents.”

The bill is designed, in its own language, to “provide for the financing, construction, operation, regulation and maintenance of interstate 80 under a tolled configuration.”

A study conducted more than 10 years ago showed that a typical section of I-80 in Wyoming had a traffic count of about 13,000 vehicles per day, with heavy trucks making up about half of that traffic. Traffic has continued to increase, with heavy truck volume alone projected to approach nearly 16,000 per day by 2037. And estimates showed then that maintaining I-80 in its present condition over the next 30 years would cost more than $6.4 billion – that’s after adjusting for inflation.

However, before the House Transportation committee even discussed the bill, a straw poll by the committee members halted the forward motion of the legislation. But the chair of the committee, Rep. Donald Burkhart Jr., R-Rawlins, encouraged Senator Cale Case (chair of the Senate Revenue Committee) to make his presentation to the members, despite their decision to table the bill.

“This is an important bill. It’s an important consideration,” Burkhart noted.

Senator Case pointed out that, like the majority of legislators in Wyoming, “I’m over in the senate voting for every cut that comes along,” and looking for ways to increase revenue. But he believes the toll bill could provide an important funding boost.

“Wyoming needs things set in motion,” he told the committee, “because from a revenue standpoint, we don’t have much to hang our hats on.”

And with the recent failure of the bill that would have increased the fuel tax, other funding sources such as the toll bill must be considered, according to Case.

“This tolling bill is a really significant tool that potentially can solve our problems with Interstate 80,” he said. “And free up a bunch of money to be distributed elsewhere in the state on our highway system.”

He encouraged the committee to “think big for a second, what it could accomplish.”

But the idea isn’t completely dead. At the end of the committee’s consideration on the topic, Chairman Burkhart noted that they will be looking hard at the idea in the interim.

“The bill is tabled, potentially pending a special session,” he announced, asking Senator Case to continue to work with the committee on this subject. 

Case agreed, adding, “We truly are in a desperate situation in Wyoming – we need to be proactive.”

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18-Wheeler Plunges into North Platte River Near Ft. Steele, Wyoming

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Reeling in the Big One

The painstakingly slow process of reeling in the water logged CRST tractor trailer begins Thursday afternoon — more than eight hours after the commercial truck entered the North Platte River. Professional tow truck operators from Pronghorn Towing and Recovery had to stop several times in order to clear debris and level the earth along the embankment. The slow and steady pace was necessary to ensure the trailer didn’t tip over in the strong current. Bigfoot 99 has the story this morning. Video by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99

Posted by Bigfoot99 – KTGA 99.3 FM Saratoga/Rawlins, WY on Friday, April 10, 2020

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Well, this is something — thankfully — you don’t see everyday.

A semi-truck driver on Thursday, who apparently fell asleep at the wheel, drove his truck into the North Platte River near Fort Steele.

The good news is that the driver and his passenger escaped the ordeal with only minor injuries. The bad news is, well, he drove his truck into the river.

According to a news release, the Wyoming Highway Patrol was dispatched to the area at 5:38 a.m. Thursday morning and spotted the vehicle in the river.

Carbon County Search and Rescue and the Wyoming Game and Fish also responded to the scene. 

Carbon County Search and Rescue used their boat to help retrieve the passengers from the truck.

The Wyoming Game and Fish and Carbon County Fire Department worked to contain any hazardous material leaking from the truck.           

The driver was cited for failing to maintain his lane of travel. 

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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.”

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