by nathan oster
The Wyoming Department of Transportation is proposing more than $40 million in highway upgrades within Big Horn County in the draft version of its State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which was unveiled during a June 22 meeting in Basin.
Big Horn County lies in District 5, which also includes the counties of Fremont, Park, Hot Springs and Washakie as well as small portions of Natrona and Teton counties.
Shelby Carlson, the district engineer, said the purpose of the June 22 meeting was to obtain feedback from other local officials about the projects that WYDOT is proposing in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Wyoming Transportation Commission votes on the STIP in September and it becomes official in October.
Carlson said she found herself in the same position she has in recent years when putting together the STIP. With less funding to work with, WYDOT has shifted its focus to “pavement preservation.”
What that means, she said, is that “we’ll spend more time and dollars working to keep good roads good. Our goal is to prolong the life of the pavement so that it never gets to be in poor shape.”
Carlson said the drying up of federal highway trust funds and the department’s need to borrow to cover its ongoing project costs between now and the end of the current fiscal year impacted the draft version of the STIP.
So, too, did the priority that the Legislature placed on two specific projects, as considerable funding was set aside to add passing lanes on Highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette and U.S. Highway 20/26 between Casper and Shoshoni.
Carlson said the stretch of U.S. 20/26 that will be improved first, expected over the next two summers, is the one lying outside of District 5, the approximately 45-mile stretch from Casper west to Waltman. The stretch from Waltman west to Shoshoni, which is in District 5, is programmed to occur in 2020 and 2022, said Carlson.
“By 2022, we should have passing lanes built for the entire Casper to Shoshoni stretch,” she said.
While it will ultimately be good news for motorists, there will be some short-term pain attached. “We’ve had to delay other projects we had planned on funding,” said Carlson. “Some jobs have been shuffled around, within the STIP.”
In draft form, the projects in Big Horn County that are identified in the STIP total $4.6 million in 2015, $18.6 million in 2017, $4.1 million in 2018, $4.8 million in 2019 and $5.1 million in 2020.
Two overlay projects are planned in 2016 — one on Wyoming 32 from the Willwood junction going four miles north, the other on Wyoming 310 starting about a mile north of its junction with U.S. Highways 14-16-20 and proceeding northward.
The biggest project on the five-year horizon for Big Horn County is programmed for 2017. Estimated to cost more than $15 million, it will widen the Shoshone Bridge and build two new structures over Sage Creek and the railroad.
Also programmed for 2017, according to Carlson, are “the widening of the road from Lovell through the U.S. Highway 14A intersection, adding some turn lanes and plus some overlay work.”
WYDOT is also projecting to do some work on U.S. Highway 14 in 2017. Carlson said some retaining walls in the Big Horns above Shell are in need of repair.
Projects proposed for 2018 include a 4.5-mile overlay on Wyoming 31 between Manderson and Hyattville as well as a 5.5-mile overlay and new right-of-way between Lovell and the Willwood junction.
A 5.5-mile overlay just east of Shell and toward the Big Horns is proposed for 2019, as is an overlay and ADA sidewalk improvements within the town of Byron.
Projects proposed for 2020 include a 5.5-mile overlay between Otto and Basin, an overlay on Wyoming 31 near Hyatville and a slope flattening and guardrail upgrade between Basin and Manderson.
Carlson also updated county officials on WYDOT’s decision to place curve chevron on 43 of its worst curves. “We know that two-thirds of our fatalities occur on rural two-lane roads on curves,” she said. “We identified the worst ones in our district and we placed those chevrons.
“What we’ve seen in three years of data is that they have reduced crash rates by 26 percent.”