- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming has no large cities and still has plenty of wide-open spaces, so it’s largely escaping the traffic gridlock that’s increasingly gripping many urban areas around the country.

But Wyoming still is seeing plenty of traffic, and the state’s chief highway engineer said it’s having trouble covering wear and tear on its highways that’s largely caused by heavy trucks that are only passing through.

Traffic on Interstate 80, the main east-west arterial across the state, averages over 8,000 vehicles a day, said Del McOmie, chief engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Figures run higher around cities such as Cheyenne and Rock Springs.

The department doesn’t receive adequate funding to maintain I-80, so conditions are deteriorating, McOmie said. Barring bad weather, he said vehicles typically can run at the 75 mph speed limit, but he added that many truckers don’t do so because of concerns about fuel economy.

Trucks account for more than half the traffic on I-80, McOmie said.

“It’s a little bit different from other parts of the country with a higher population base in that they have higher traffic volumes. But the ratio of trucks to cars is not has high as it is in Wyoming,” he said.

Each truck is equivalent to about three or four cars in terms of its effect on the highway, McOmie said.

Wyoming lawmakers recently considered the prospect of putting toll booths on I-80 to help cover maintenance costs, but they decided against it.

“Interestingly enough, from the studies that were done back about five years ago on tolling, what they found was about 85 percent of the traffic on I-80 neither originates in the state nor does it have a destination in the state,” McOmie said. “It’s simply pass-through traffic coming from one state to another on I-80.”

Lawmakers approved a 10-cent increase in fuel taxes that went into effect in 2013, hiking the per-gallon tax from 14 cents to 24 cents. The extra revenue goes to cover maintenance on the state highway system, not federal interstates, McOmie said.

“If you took our entire federal and state budget,” Wyoming could not keep I-80 in its current condition in the years to come, McOmie said. “We are seeing a decline in the condition on I-80.”

While McOmie said the state’s Department of Transportation is waiting to see how much money it will receive out of a pending federal highway bill, he said he doesn’t anticipate a dramatic funding increase.

“I don’t see anything on the horizon that’s going to stem that decline on I-80 and some of the other roads around the state,” McOmie said.

Traffic on I-25 between Cheyenne and Casper is climbing, he said. The average daily traffic count on I-25 west of Glenrock was 7,200 vehicles in 2012, rising to about 7,600 in 2013.

South of Cheyenne, traffic on I-25 is running close to 12,000 vehicles a day, McOmie said. That represents commuter traffic, as well as traffic between Denver and I-80, he said.

Jackson, the tourist hotspot nestled in the mountains south of Yellowstone National Park, is the only place in Wyoming that has real traffic congestion according to federal standards, McOmie said.

“They’ve just a lot of traffic there, and tourism in the summer,” McOmie said. “It’s almost gone into kind of a year-round thing there. They don’t really have much of an offseason, compared to back in the 1980s or early 1990s.”

On Wyoming 22, the highway that runs west from Jackson over Teton Pass, the daily traffic in 2013 was 15,600 vehicles.

In the future, McOmie said, all of Wyoming will likely see its traffic increase.

“Nationwide, they’re projecting a steady grown of truck traffic, that’s how our goods and services move around the country,” McOmie said. While truck traffic declined on many routes after the recent recession hit, numbers are coming back up, he said.

“As the economy gets better, of course here in Wyoming we see more people from a tourism standpoint here in the summer,” McOmie said. “So that adds to that increase in summer traffic both in our roads in the internal part of the state, as well as on the interstates.”

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