LARAMIE - The Wyoming Department of Transportation has broken ground on a project to widen U.S. Highway 287 from Laramie to the Colorado border, a dangerous stretch of road that's been the site of numerous fatal crashes.

The department started work Wednesday to expand the highway from two to four lanes for about 26 miles. The first phase of the project is the expansion of a four-mile stretch of the road between mileposts 415 and 419, south of Tie Siding.

Department resident engineer Steve Cook said the state budgeted $9.1 million for the project's first phase. He said he didn't know how long the entire project will take.

"I couldn't even guess at that," he said. "It's so dependent on funding."

Highway 287 was the location of a 2001 head-on crash that killed eight members of the University of Wyoming men's cross country team.

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John Schabron, a principal scientist for the Western Research Institute, has been lobbying Wyoming to widen the road. Schabron's son, Nick, was one of the victims of the cross country team crash.

"The thing that really, I guess, was the focal point was when we lost the eight runners in 2001," Schabron said. "Then, it became more of a public awareness issue."

The transportation department plans to build the northbound lanes of the future highway to the east of the current road, which eventually will serve as the southbound lanes.

Next year, the state will focus its attention on an eight-mile section between milepost 419.7 and the Wyoming-Colorado border. The remainder of the road will be constructed in sections toward Laramie over the next several years. The project also includes repairing the existing lanes, Cook said.

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