Wyoming lawmakers demand WYDOT report on justification for slower speeds

2013-03-28T20:00:00Z 2014-03-31T13:23:09Z Wyoming lawmakers demand WYDOT report on justification for slower speedsBy LAURA HANCOCK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Wyoming lawmakers want to know why some state roads have slower speed limits than what’s legally allowed.

By Sept. 1, the Wyoming Department of Transportation will provide answers.

Legislators are especially miffed about Wyoming Highway 34 through Sybille Canyon, Togwotee Pass and U.S. 14/16/20 between Cody and Yellowstone’s East Gate – all roads that were reconstructed and reopened with slower speeds than before reconstruction.

In the supplemental budget bill passed in February, the Legislature ordered WYDOT to admit if it lowers speed limits to curry favor or comply with Washington when obtaining permission for road reconstruction on federal lands during the environmental review process. WYDOT must also describe other reasons for slower speeds.

It may not be only lawmakers who crave speed.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, thinks average Wyomingites want to drive fast, too.

“As fast as the road will handle, of course,” said Von Flatern, co-chairman of the Joint Transportation Interim Committee, which will hear the WYDOT report. “Why would you want to go any slower? We have a lot of distances that need to be covered with nothing in between, traffic-wise.”

“In the Legislature, we call that windshield time,” said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, describing the drive through “long distances of nothing.”

Coe was one of the lawmakers who requested the WYDOT presentation. He berated the slower speeds on Togwotee Pass, formerly 65 mph and now 55 mph, and on the road between Cody and Yellowstone, formerly 65 mph and now 50.

Togwotee Pass is on U.S. Forest Service land, WYDOT chief engineer Delbert McOmie said.

Under federal law, WYDOT had to take input from environmental groups and state and federal agencies, such as the Sierra Club, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, McOmie said.

Many of the agencies and groups wanted a slower speed, he said.

The pass’s curves and hills also warranted a 55 mph speed.

“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.

Outside of Cody, the highway speeds were reduced because of wildlife. Inside Yellowstone National Park, the speed limit is 45 mph.

“This was a good way to get people accustomed to slowing down,” said Bob Bonds, WYDOT environmental coordinator, who insisted the federal government cannot force WYDOT to set a speed limit during environmental review.

House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, is irritated by the 55 mph speed limit in Sybille Canyon, which used to be 65. Brown sponsored two bills limiting WYDOT’s ability to decrease speeds. After both died in committees, Brown helped craft the budget bill’s requirement for the WYDOT report .

“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 said of WYDOT.

Wetlands, Game and Fish research station pastures and private property concerns led WYDOT to lower the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph, said Joel Meena, WYDOT traffic engineer.

The Federal Highway Administration paid for a chunk of the project and required WYDOT meet with stakeholders, he said.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. Dirk Speedwell
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    Dirk Speedwell - March 30, 2013 10:29 am
    Hank Coe and Kermit Brown are very important people. Their time is much too valuable to spend a few extra minutes driving in order to protect wildlife or improve safety. They have state agencies to micromanage, backs to slap, palms to grease, deals to make. They can't be wasting their vast expertise on "windshield time." They're politicians, lawyers, and investment brokers. We can't leave decisions like speed limits to traffic engineers when we have people with the expertise of Coe and Brown willing to do it.
  2. DK
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    DK - March 30, 2013 8:55 am
    Part of the argument is for the North Fork highway, Cody to the Park. 50 miles approximately. Approximately half is 65mph- to west of Wapati, the remainder is 50 to Pahaska or the East gate. So lets say for 25 miles you have to slow down to 50mph. It's a half hour drive from Wapati to the East gate. Driving 65mph which leads to 70mph or more, shaves what, 10 minutes off that drive. WOW! Now while you are driving 70mph most are driving 55 mph enjoying the scenery. You risk their lives as well as your own for the sake of shaving 10 minutes off your drive. Not to mention all the wildlife. And by the way, there is far more wildlife on the Forest Service stretch. I have albums full of photos to prove it.
  3. Big Evan Diehl
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    Big Evan Diehl - March 29, 2013 7:30 pm
    Yes. The speed limit for the first 25 miles west of Cody is 65 MPH. Then, it goes onto National Forest and drops to 50 MPH. There are lots more animals to be hit in the first 25 miles, because of all the hay fields. Makes no sense at all what WYDOT did when the Nat'l Forest portion of the hwy was improved.
  4. Big Evan Diehl
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    Big Evan Diehl - March 29, 2013 7:25 pm
    It would not surprise me if all the National Forest lands surrounding Yellowstone and Teton Parks is incorporated into those Parks. I know that would please the Greater Yellowstone Coalition greatly.

    With these lower speed limits (on highways vastly improved from just 10 years ago) we are already seeing the environmental groups flex their muscles.
  5. Sassy
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    Sassy - March 29, 2013 4:48 pm
    WYDOT needs to tell Coe and Brown- Go pound sand....Bob Bonds Really what a joke
  6. Wyofirst
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    Wyofirst - March 29, 2013 2:03 pm
    My concern is that groups like the Sierra Club or Greater Yellowstone Coalition have to be consulted by WYDOT when constructing these roads. I believe agencies like the Forest Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish should be consulted but not politically motivated radicals in the GYC. If they continue to request input they should also request it from motorized travel groups like jeep clubs or the Blue Ribbon Coalition.
  7. Big Evan Diehl
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    Big Evan Diehl - March 29, 2013 12:48 pm
    The road from Cody to Yellowstone was 60 MPH years ago, then the feds dropped it to 55 (energy crisis days), then they rebuilt it a few years ago, adding wide shoulders and straightening the road so you can see down it for a mile...... and they dropped the speed limit to 50 MPH.
  8. Ironantler
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    Ironantler - March 29, 2013 11:47 am
    I LOVE it................We DEMAND to know!

    I am not demanding....just asking............... what makes any of you folks in the CLUB know anything about highways? Looks like another excuse to have another meeting to me and waste some more of our tax dollars..............enough is enough. Take care of your jobs and leave the the rest to folks who know. And we will see you all next session.

    Have yourself a nice day.
  9. pappy
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    pappy - March 29, 2013 8:38 am
    I have to agree with Rep Brown about the standards of the highway and the speed limit. When WDOT was asked to reduce the standard on NF highway they said they had to meet federal standards. Yet YNP built their highway to a much lower standard. The speed was recommended by WGFD because of the amounts of traffic and wildlife concerns. Could the forest service portion be higher, maybe 55 but the lower portion through all the subdivisions should be lowered to 55 mph. If your were close to a town it would be 50mph or less because of all the side road traffic. WYDOT could at least be consistent. People drive the NF to see the wildlife and the scenery not to see how fast they can get to Cody.
  10. side oiler
    Report Abuse
    side oiler - March 29, 2013 8:31 am
    Too many idiots on cell phones or texting cause too many accidents,so speed is a factor when the dumbos won't pay attention. People are just asinine behind the wheel anymore.
  11. DK
    Report Abuse
    DK - March 29, 2013 8:21 am
    The stretches of highway mentioned need slower speed limits. The fat cats in Cheyenne, are out of touch. A little common sense, wildlife traffic is heavy in those areas. Some are very scenic. Slow down and enjoy the view and maybe save a deer or elk. WyDot knows what they are doing. How about consulting the Highway Patrol. Those guys know the roads and will probably back up what WyDot says. Another issue, how about the wind river canyon? How many deaths attributed to high speed during poor road conditions. WyDot needs to slow them down there. How about flashing signs at each of the canyon, conditions bad, slow the idiots down. The North Fork Highway, I think it is 55mph, plenty fast for that area. No one pays attention to it, especially tourists. And very little enforcement from the HP. I often think there is some pressure from higher ups for the HP to look the other way. I actually think the HP needs to step up enforcement on the North Fork, and slow people down. And if the tourists don't like it, then don't come . Out of state Speeders show a total disrespect for our laws and our state.
  12. supercalifragilistic
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    supercalifragilistic - March 29, 2013 6:39 am
    Trust me when I say "traffic over U.S. Highway 26/287 on Togwotee Pass can have bumper to bumper traffic", cause it does. WyDOT knows what they're doing if that's all the speed limit is?
    The temptation is 65 tp 70 mph due to a nice highway and getting to the parks but, too many tourists in big tubs going over the pass makes that impassable. Plus the semi-truck traffic just compounds that issue.

    Too bad it wasn't made a "four lane highway" with slower traffic signs posted through out. Then you could post a double speed limit - slower on the right - faster on the left side. Or slower traffic to keep right.
  13. WY Citizens
    Report Abuse
    WY Citizens - March 29, 2013 4:52 am
    Again, the Good Ole Boys thinking they know more than those who are the real experts. The legislature seems to be made up of folks providing nothing more than "long distances (of time) of nothing". There are reasons why we have reduced areas of speed - it is for SAFETY - school zones, residential, limited areas of visibility, wildlife, etc. Let's waste more time and MONEY to do another study on studies that have already taken place with others.
  14. Jackalope
    Report Abuse
    Jackalope - March 28, 2013 8:28 pm
    Perhaps, it is the same reason that they put reduced speed notes on curves: to save a life.
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