CHEYENNE — Vince Hopkin leaves his home in Cody at 4 a.m. most days and drives 30 miles on Wyoming Highway 120 to Meeteetse, where he owns a convenience store.
If the road is snowy or slick, he phones in a condition report to the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s “nerve center” in Cheyenne.
Hopkin is one of about 300 volunteers statewide with the department’s Enhanced Citizen-Assisted Reporting system. He has been a member for four or five years.
The volunteers provide the department with another human view of road conditions in addition to reports from Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers and Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance workers.
WYDOT’s snow plow crews are sometimes already out when Hopkin leaves home in his pickup truck. Other times, they aren’t.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Hopkin said of his role. “A lot of times (the plows) haven’t gone out yet, because they weren’t expecting it.”
When Hopkin does encounter snow on the road, he identifies the location by the mile markers.
He has the phone number of the department’s center in Cheyenne on his cell phone and calls in the information to a dispatcher. The information also is used to update the department’s 511 road and weather report.
Hopkin’s job is to monitor the 30-mile segment of the highway between Cody and Meeteetse.
Maia Ruggiero of Upton reports on any segment of highway in the state. She works as an EMT for the North Antelope coal mine and for the Upton Volunteer Fire Department. Ruggiero said her goal is to prevent highway accidents whenever possible.
“It’s a great program. I’ve been doing it for quite a while,” Ruggiero said.
Her time is worth the effort, she said, if it prevents someone from flipping a car on an icy road.
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Ruggiero has recruited bus drivers for the mines to join the ECAR program since they drive the roads all the time.
Officials at WYDOT train the volunteers to identify and classify road conditions as slick or slick in spots, with black ice or with blowing snow or drifting snow.
In the summer the volunteers call in to report roadkill or if a fence is down.
Hopkin said he received the two-hour
training in Cody with several other volunteers, including a couple of delivery truck drivers who travel different routes.
The WYDOT instructors showed slides of road conditions and taught them what to look for and how to describe it. The slides showed how black ice looks on a road at different times of the day and night.
Ruggerio said she received the training through a Skype video computer connection.
The program “really helps us keep better information flow,” WYDOT spokesman Bruce Burrows said.
The definitions of highway conditions are important so that the volunteers’ reports are not too
diverse, he added.
The participants are supplied with an illustrated handbook that includes written and visual definitions of the different types of pavement and weather conditions used by WYDOT.
One example is the difference between “slick” and “slick in spots,” according to the WYDOT website.
The handbook also instructs on how the volunteers can report roadkill or debris on the highways or incorrect information on dynamic message signs.
People interested in the volunteer program can find information on the bottom of the WYDOT website by clicking the “road conditions” icon.
Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or email@example.com.