Wyo. Gridlocked on Improvements to Interstate 80

Wed February 21, 2007 - West Edition
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) Wyoming has only a few years to take action to improve Interstate 80, the state’s busiest highway, before increasingly heavy traffic and skyrocketing construction costs spell real problems for the state, state officials said.

“If we took all the money we spend on every road in the state of Wyoming for the next 30 years, and we don’t spend any of it anywhere but I-80, we don’t have enough money to fix I-80,” Del McOmie, chief engineer of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said.

The daily traffic count on the stretch between Cheyenne and Laramie now exceeds 12,800 and is expected to increase by more than 35 percent in the next 20 years.

Semitrailers now comprise half the traffic on I-80 and, within the next 20 years, are expected to increase by 60 percent to more than 12,200 a day.

The state currently rates approximately 80 percent of I-80 in Wyoming as being in “good” or “excellent” condition. But officials said that by the year 2020, half of the highway will rate as being in “poor” condition without additional funding.

The state House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee is supporting legislation that would put up $100,000 to fund a commission to study the I-80 situation and come up with a suggestion of how the state should address the problem. All the proposals to fix or expand I-80 are expensive.

“As far as I-80 is concerned, I don’t think a whole lot of people really understand how busy that highway is,”committee chairman Rep. Dave Edwards, R-Douglas, said. He said he wants the commission to come up with a solution without a “long, bureaucratic session.”

The highway department estimates that overhauling the four-lane highway in its current form would cost approximately $6 billion over 30 years. Upgrading the parts of the highway that are now asphalt to a sturdier concrete roadway would cost approximately $7.5 billion, after adjusting for inflation, and would add 20 years to the life of the highway.

Rebuilding I-80 as a six-lane, concrete highway would reduce congestion, but would cost approximately $8 billion. Other proposals include building a separate highway for trucks, or building new sections of highway to bypass areas that are difficult to maintain in winter storms. Costs for those proposals vary widely.

Meanwhile, commuters and truckers who use I-80 say it’s imperative that the state take steps to improve it.

Jacalyn Neely made the 100-mi. round-trip commute between Laramie and Cheyenne on I-80 for two years before close calls with trucks scared her off the road. She now rents an apartment in Cheyenne where she lives during the week.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve almost had a wreck,” Neely said. “It’s unnerving.”

Jim Robinson, another daily I-80 commuter between Laramie and Cheyenne, said he can’t imagine how more truck traffic could fit on I-80. “It just seems there isn’t much more room for trucks,” he said.

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