Jul 27, 2016

Upcoming road work planned for Cody, Meeteetse and Powell area highways

As the state of Wyoming has slashed millions of dollars from its budget in recent months, the state’s roads and bridges have emerged relatively unscathed so far.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation plans to complete $285.4 million worth of construction projects this year — up by $20 million from 2015.

“We did pretty well,” WYDOT District 5 Engineer Shelby Carlson said at a meeting last week in Cody. “We did not take a hit like a lot of the state agencies did.”

Carlson said one reason her department fared better than others is that “the whole economy of the state runs on the backbone of the highway system.” WYDOT also got millions of extra dollars from the new federal highway bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

The biggest share of this year’s construction dollars will go to Wyoming’s interstates, while District 5 — which includes all of the Big Horn Basin plus Fremont County and parts of Teton and Natrona counties — will receive approximately $28 million.

The large projects on tap, underway or completed in Park County include:

• $2.52 million to level, overlay and chip seal 13 miles of the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyo. Highway 296) and $1.97 million to repair a large rock slide on the highway in the Paint Creek Canyon area, northwest of Cody.

In June, crews had to get high above the road to repair a rock slide area along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyo. Highway 296). Photo courtesy WYDOT
• $1.95 million to overhaul a little more than a mile of Cody’s main street (Sheridan Avenue/Eighth Street/Yellowstone Avenue) between China Town and Cody Labs; the route is a part of U.S. Highway 14/16/20.

WYDOT and contractor Mountain Construction intended to finish the job by June 15, but ran into weather and other delays; in mid-June, they decided to pause the project until the fall, when traffic slows.

“It was just getting where we couldn’t get anything done productively,” said WYDOT Resident Engineer Todd Frost of Cody. Waiting should make it easier for travelers, who were getting backed up for blocks, and it should be better for downtown businesses and safer for construction crews as well, WYDOT officials said.

• $1.53 million to upgrade sidewalks and install wheelchair-accessible ramps along Meeteetse’s main street (Wyo. Highway 120)

• $1.53 million to replace some old, substandard guardrail along roughly 4.5 miles of Wyo. Highway 120, north of Meeteetse

In the meantime, crews are finishing up the new Willwood Bridge southwest of Powell, which is “99 percent done right now,” Frost said. He expects the bridge to be paved within the next couple of weeks.

Also just getting some finishing touches are a series of improvements to U.S. Highway 14/16/20 through the Wapiti area.

As for next year, Powell residents can expect to see $2.52 million worth of work to remove the remaining medians on Coulter Avenue (U.S. Highway 14-A), replace the current street lights and re-surface that portion of the road.

The largest local project scheduled for 2017 is a $6.8 million effort to level, overlay and chip seal 11 miles of Wyo. Highway 120 south of Cody. It’s the start of a plan to resurface the entire Cody-Meeteetse route between next year and 2022.

WYDOT has also set aside $685,750 next year to try reducing the amount of falling rock by the tunnels near the Buffalo Bill Dam, on U.S. Highway 14/16/20. That “rock fall mitigation” will involve blasting off a huge boulder and removing around 10,000 cubic yards of material west of Cody, Frost said.

In 2018, WYDOT plans to spend $100,000 constructing a parking lot near the tunnels to serve as a staging area for rock climbers.

WYDOT plans to construct a parking lot for climbers near the tunnels west of Cody.

The department blocked off access to the pullout a number of years ago, but with climbers now walking through the tunnels to get there, WYDOT is reversing course.

“We’re going to open that parking lot back up and just give them access rather than take the hazards of them walking through the tunnels all the time,” said District 5 Engineer Lyle Lamb.

In addition to those projects, WYDOT will continue its routine maintenance around the district: sealing cracks, fixing culverts, rehabilitating bridges and upgrading guardrails.

The department is continuing to focus on preserving its roads — rather than upgrading them — in the state’s tighter times.

The FAST Act immediately restored $242 million in federal Abandoned Mine Lands funding to Wyoming and the state should receive $595 million more over the next five years, according to WYDOT. The funding was restored by the actions of Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, though Carlson said other members of Congress have already drafted legislation to take that money back.

Jul 26, 2016

Park County Fair to feature concert, carnival and other fun

The 2016 Park County Fair is here and with it comes a full slate of entertainment, vendors and a slew of exhibits ranging from animals to artwork.

The annual county-wide event takes place at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell, at 655 East Fifth Street.

Pig mud wrestling kicked off the fair’s grandstand entertainment tonight (Tuesday) with free admission and it will be followed by a series of ticketed events: an Arenacross event with motorcycle and side-by-side racing on Wednesday, a Bump ‘N Run Race on Thursday, a performance by Canadian country musician Terri Clark on Friday and the fan-favorite Demolition Derby, which will help close out the fair on Saturday night.

“A lot of people had asked us to move the concert to Friday (from the Thursday of last year’s fair), so we’re expecting a better crowd for that,” said Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner.
Kintla LaFevers of Cody and her cat, Buttercup, return to their seats after collecting a ribbon during last week's 4-H Cat Show.

Kalispell, Montana, indie-rockers Marshall Catch will open Friday’s concert at 7 p.m. with Clark hitting the stage at 8:30 p.m.

Carnival Midway Attractions is returning for the fair; its mix of rides and other attractions will open at 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) and run until 11 p.m. The carnival will then operate from noon to midnight Wednesday through Saturday.

Plenty of local talent will also be on display this year. A whopping 8,087 exhibits have been submitted — running the gamut from pigs and poultry to pies and photography. It’s the most submissions since the fair office started electronically tracking them, Renner said, calling it “so exciting.”

Animals will be displayed in their respective barns, with static 4-H exhibits in Bicentennial Hall and static open class exhibits in the new exhibit hall.

Fairgoers may also notice a bit more free entertainment.

Two acts are returning: hypnotist and “phenomenist” Michael Mezmer and contemporary circus performers Mango and Dango.

“Everything else is new,” Renner said, referring to acts that include a rattlesnake show and a bubble-spewing tower.

The Pepsi Free Stage will also feature some musical entertainers, including the Lady Luck Trio — which performs oldies and other songs — and a couple local bands. In a new twist, the local Wyoming Desperados Mounted Shooters will put on a free exhibition at 5 p.m. Friday in the horse arena behind the grandstands.

The fair atmosphere will also spread to downtown Powell on Saturday morning, with the 10 a.m. Park County Fair Parade.

To try boosting the fair’s revenues amid a tighter county budget, the fair board raised the price of weekly admission and weekly parking passes from $10 to $15 each. Daily admission and parking passes remain $5 a piece.

The fair will offer free admission today (Tuesday) and until 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wapiti speed limit too high, some locals complain

Tourists hustling to get to Yellowstone National Park might be enjoying the new 70 mph speed limit through the Wapiti area, but some locals are not.

At a public meeting last week, a few Wapiti residents urged the Wyoming Department of Transportation to consider dropping the speed limit along U.S. Highway 14/16/20 west of Cody back to 65 mph or lower.

Some locals say 70 mph is too fast for U.S. Highway 14/16/20 through Wapiti. Photo courtesy WYDOT
“The traffic in general isn’t going that much faster than it has, that I can see,” said Wayne Peterson of Wapiti. “But you’ve got the person that says, ‘The road is 70 miles an hour; I’ve got to go 70.’”

Peterson — who said he and his wife have been run off the road five times — was among a few people who argued the portion of U.S. Highway 14/16/20 is different, playing host to more distracted sightseers and large amounts of wildlife.

“There’s just too much distraction, so you need to lower that speed limit,” Wapiti resident Steve Haberland told WYDOT representatives. Citing some close calls, Haberland also suggested the department reduce the number of passing zones in the area.

WYDOT District Engineer Shelby Carlson said there’s been “a lot” of complaints and the department has already hired engineers with Morrison-Maierle to study whether the North Fork highway’s speed limit should be reduced.

However, Carlson warned the audience at the July 18 meeting that — even if the study finds a lower speed is warranted — the reduction may have a limited effect.

“Driver behavior is what needs to change,” she said. “Changing the speed limit sign doesn’t do that.”

Carlson said studies have generally shown that “people just continue to drive the speed they feel comfortable, despite what the speed-limit sign says.”

For example, she said WYDOT lowered the speed limit between Manderson and Worland and later found “the prevailing speed hadn’t changed.”

Similarly, in the case of the North Fork, “we haven’t seen any changes in terms of speed and driver behavior” since the increase to 70 mph, said WYDOT District Traffic Engineer Randy Merritt.

When the department surveyed speeds on the North Fork highway last year, it found people were driving about 68 mph near the Red Barn Store and over 70 mph everywhere else, Merritt said. A survey a few weeks ago found drivers going 70 mph near the Red Barn and generally within a couple mph of last year’s figures, he said.

“We haven’t seen any changes in terms of speed and driver behavior” with the new 70 mph limit, said WYDOT District Traffic Engineer Randy Merritt.

The Legislature raised the state’s default highway speed from 65 to 70 mph earlier this year, affecting nearly 400 miles of road across the Big Horn Basin.

Of the local complaints to WYDOT about the change, most have been about the North Fork area, Carlson said. However, she noted WYDOT can only set a lower speed limit if the decision is backed by an engineering study.

“So if their (the engineers’) conclusions are contrary to what I’m hearing today from folks, you’ll proceed with their recommendations and ignore what’s being said today?” asked Cody resident Doug Smith.

“That’s correct,” said Carlson. “We have to justify it (the speed) by an engineering study. That’s the way the statute and the law was written.”

The study will take public input into consideration, while also looking at crash data, the road’s conditions and other information, she said.

WYDOT officials said they’re continuing to try to make the North Fork highway safer with signs warning of wildlife and speed limit changes — and by warning of the dangers of driving drunk, with distractions or without a seat belt.

Additionally, the previously short-handed Wyoming Highway Patrol is now close to being fully staffed.

“You are going to see more law enforcement out on the road and that should help with some of this,” Carlson said.

Jul 25, 2016

Community invited to join in Tuesday workout at City Park

Everyone is being invited to a free community workout on Tuesday evening at City Park.

From 5:30-7 p.m., certified fitness instructors will lead anyone who’s interested through a series of PiYo exercises (a combination of Pilates and yoga), strength training, kickboxing and more.

The second annual “Pack the Park” event is being sponsored by West Park Hospital, Anytime Fitness and the Cody Rec Center. It’s a part of the hospital’s Community Health Series.

“Any topic you can think of we’re trying to get it out to the community and use our professionals that are at hand at West Park Hospital and get them in front of people so they can really teach and educate what health is all about,” West Park Community Relations Manager Ashley Trudo explained at last year’s workout, adding, “This is about getting out, getting people healthy.”

Beyond the exercise instruction, the event will also feature giveaways, snacks and health information. Childcare will also be available.

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