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August 05, 2014 7:22 am

EDITORIAL: Highway project east of Cody has been handled well

Written by Ilene Olson

As summer draws to a close, we applaud the well-organized and managed construction project to widen U.S. Highway 14-A east of Cody to five lanes — two lanes going each direction, with a turning lane in the middle.

The $9. 6 million project is the last of 11 projects the Wyoming Department of Transportation has planned and overseen since 2001 to widen the highway between Powell and Cody at a total cost of nearly $66.4 million, making it easier, faster and safer to travel between the two cities.

Those of us who were here in the 1990s or earlier remember well the difficulties and safety hazards encountered on the two-lane highway then. Many of those hazards were caused by traffic building up behind slower agricultural trucks and farm equipment, and drivers taking risks trying to get past them. 

In addition, there were dips in the highway where lower-profile vehicles sometimes were hidden from view, making it look like the other lane was clear for passing a slower vehicle, even when it wasn’t.

Other problems were caused by drivers slowing and/or stopping on the highway in order to make a turn onto a county lane or road or onto a private drive.

Seeking a way to  improve the flow of traffic and reduce safety hazards on the highway and to facilitate economic development, a group from Powell and Cody approached Sleeter Dover, then the director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Wyoming Transportation Commission, in 1996 with a request for adding passing lanes to U.S.Highway 14-A where appropriate.

The group consisted of economic development leaders Dave Reetz of Powell and Paul Hoffman of Cody, Powell City Administrator Greg Lanning, Cody Airport Manager Laurie Suttmeir, and John Wetzel of the Powell Tribune.

The Wyoming Transportation Commission put the request on its agenda, and plans to improve the highway to help alleviate traffic-flow problems began shortly afterward. Initially, that took the form of widening the shoulders on the highway and adding a third lane which served as a passing lane alternating between the two traffic directions on the highway.

Public meetings in Powell and Cody in March 1998 presented several options for improving the highway. Public comments showed considerable, though not unanimous, support for the three-lane concept.

Locally, some advocated for a divided highway between the two cities. However, a divided highway was not possible, they were told, because of right-of-way issues and limited space between railroad tracks on one side of the highway and irrigation lines and canals on the other.

The three-lane plan won approval, and that was the plan in place when the Corbett Bridge was reconstructed with three lanes, with construction beginning in February 2001 and completed in June 2002.

Later, Vic Strube, an engineer for WYDOT in Basin, proposed that future projects widen the highway to five lanes, citing a similar project in another part of the state. The commission agreed, and construction projects on the highway since then have widened the highway to five lanes, with the middle lane designated a turning lane.

When the project was approved, the Wyoming Legislature was considering widening several major thoroughfares in the state, and Dover cited the project as a model for highway improvement in the state.

Initially, the entire Powell-to-Cody highway widening project was scheduled to be completed by 2006. But increasing costs of construction and rights-of-way acquisition resulted in several delays over the years.

News of the final project, which began last fall, was greeted by locals with enthusiasm for completing the highway widening, but not without some trepidation as well. That was caused by unpleasant memories of difficult commutes during previous projects over the past 10-plus years.

The previous project took place two years ago east of Corbett Bridge, with motorists between Powell and Cody often experiencing car-rattling, teeth-jarring rides over constantly pitted and potholed roads. So it’s not surprising that  locals cringed and clenched their teeth a bit when they heard about this year’s project.

We’re happy to say it’s gone better than we expected.

The contractor, Oftedal Construction, of Miles City, Mont., has done a good job of keeping the road surface in relatively good condition during the project. That surely has been a challenge, given the unusual number of snow and rainstorms this area has experienced since the project began last fall, but Oftedal and the Wyoming Department of Transportation have handled the challenge well.

And, while there have been some wait times at flagger stations, they’ve generally been pretty reasonable.

Paving of the newly widened surface began last week and is expected to be completed next month. We’re all looking forward to completion of the project — and the highway widening — this fall.

Soon, we’ll be able to drive between Powell and Cody with an ease never before experienced. We congratulate Oftedal and the Wyoming Department of Transportation on a job well done, and we thank the visionary group of locals who made the whole thing possible.

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