Wyoming panel studies I-80 issues

| 7/21/2006

Alternate routes, a toll road, safety initiatives and expanding Interstate 80 to six lanes are among the ideas drawing consideration in Wyoming to alleviate safety and congestion along the thoroughfare.

Del McOmie, chief engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, testified before an interim legislative panel this month about the busy roadway. The agency is studying several issues involving the highway.

McOmie said the scope of traffic issues on I-80 is so large that the Legislative Management Council will be asked to create a special task force to oversee the study, The Associated Press reported.

He singled out truck traffic on the interstate that runs the entire length of southern Wyoming as one of the various challenges for the state. McOmie said increasing truck traffic could cut in half the life span of the interstate.

WYDOT counts up to 10,000 vehicles a day on the highway. About half of that amount is large truck traffic, McOmie said.

By 2020, the agency anticipates between 12,000 and 17,000 trucks per day, the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune reported. The highest traffic increases are expected between Rock Springs and Green River, where as many as 45,000 vehicles could travel daily by 2020. Peak volumes now register about 20,000 vehicles each day.

During McOmie’s testimony to the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee he also pointed out that there are safety problems on I-80, especially in winter.

Closing the road in winter could alleviate some safety concerns but it also creates other problems for state officials, highway crews and towns near the interstate, he said. On average, it costs each stopped truck $1 per minute to wait for roads to reopen, the Star-Tribune reported.

Alternate routes were one option mentioned to keep travelers moving. However, widening I-80 to three lanes in each direction would be more appealing, McOmie said.

The legislative panel said turning the interstate into a toll road to pay for widening work is another option that deserves study.

“Toll roads may be our saving grace,” said Sen. Michael VonFlatern, R-Gillette, the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune reported. He said yet another option would be to lease the route to a private group.