While the intent of reducing speed limits on some Wyoming highways may be sincere, the Legislature is right to demand Wyoming Department of Transportation officials explain their changes in more detail.
This isn’t a case of micro-management by the Cheyenne crowd; it’s a case of bureaucrats justifying changes that on the surface do not make sense.
Speed limit changes on three highways — Highway 34 through Sybille Canyon, U.S. 26 over Togwotee Pass and U.S. 14/16/20 between Cody and Yellowstone — drew the attention of legislators.
Workers recently finished reconstruction work on all three roads. The new speed limit signs posted by WYDOT note speeds slower than before the work was done. You read that correctly: The speed limit on the damaged — and presumably less safe — roads was higher than on the wider, smoother — and presumably safer — reconstructed roads.
Said Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie: “They spend incredible amounts of money, and then come out with a speed limit that just seems completely out of sync with the quality of highway they’re building.”
Brown unsuccessfully pushed two bills that would limit WYDOT’s ability to decrease highway speeds. However, he did help write the report requirement for WYDOT in the budget bill. The report is due by Sept. 1.
Specifically, WYDOT is required to admit if it lowers speed limits to meet federal guidelines or to make a positive impression on federal regulators (who give the thumbs-up or -down on projects that might cover environmentally sensitive federal land).
In other words: Explain your motivation before slowing Wyoming down. And really that’s the important thing. For an agency that takes its fair share of criticism (right or wrong), this is really a measure aimed at transparency. Maybe speed limits should be slower, but first, let’s have a conversation before the sign is placed.
The roads in question are in and near some of the state’s most sensitive areas, and there very well might be a need for drivers to proceed through them at a slower pace.
The environments are pristine, and wildlife protection needs play a role, too.
WYDOT chief engineer Delbert McOmie told the Star-Tribune’s Laura Hancock that the agency solicited comments from several environmental groups and government agencies when considering the pedal point.
“Even though the road looks flatter and wider than it was before — and it is — from a design standpoint, the new design standards, which have improved over the years, would have required an even wider, flatter roadway” to go faster, McOmie said.
Fair enough, but the public deserves the details.
And the sooner, the better.