The Wyoming Department of Transportation is embarking on a mission to improve safety conditions on a stretch of Interstate 80 that is prone to brutal winter conditions and high crash rates. Plans include creating passing lanes and adding truck parking areas.
WYDOT will fund the project, dubbed the I-80 Winter Freight Improvement Project, through a combination of state and federal funds, including a $20 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant.
“Interstate 80 is vital to the state and national economies,” WYDOT Director Bill Panos said. “The proposed project will benefit the regional transportation system by promoting more effective truck traffic movement. The project constructs additional lanes in areas where trucks slow down because of steeper grades, allowing cars and trucks to pass and reducing driver fatigue.”
Improvements are expected to impact 45 miles of road between Laramie, Wyoming and Rawlins, Wyoming. Truck passing lanes will be installed on two miles eastbound over Halleck Ridge and over three miles westbound between Cooper Cove and Quealy Dome Road, according to WYDOT.
The truck passing lanes will both help keep traffic moving efficiently and help prevent secondary crashes when the interstate reopens following a road closure.
“When the road reopens, additional crashes often occur because a high volume of waiting trucks and passenger vehicles flood the road, causing traffic congestion on slick roads,” Panos said. “By constructing passing lanes where steep grades compound these traffic congestion problems, truck crashes and truck delays should decrease.”
Truck parking areas will be constructed at Walcott Junction and Quealy Dome. The department said they will accomodate 100 trucks each. This will allow drivers to wait out interstate closures when conditions are poor or hunker down in the face of impending winter storms.
The department’s freight plan shows that truck crashes along I-80 climb about four times higher during the winter months than during the summer months.
Over 2,600 traffic accidents were reported on the 45-mile stretch of road being improved between 2008 and 2017, with 1,323 involving large trucks. These accidents add up to an average annual cost of about $52 million, according to WYDOT.
“Crashes often result in damage to the road,” Panos said. “These improvements will not only save lives but will also reduce road damage and ensure traffic continues to flow smoothly in the area.”
The project in currently slated to start sometime around spring 2020.