Saturday, May 07, 2011

On May Saturday, pondering the future of Cheyenne

Riding around Cheyenne on this beautiful May morning. Errands to run, people to deliver. The Decembrists' "The King is Dead" pumping out of the speakers and out the open windows. Doesn't get much better than this, a spring Saturday after a horrible winter.

I was asking myself big questions: What is that squeak coming from the left front wheel? (Note to self -- call "Click & Clack.") When should I plant my crops -- Mother's Day, May 15 or -- as the High Plains gardening gurus recommend -- Memorial Day weekend? Is "The Decembrists' "Why We Fight" about war or relationships or both, and why is the video so lame? What is Cheyenne's future, especially with the oil play boom on the horizon?

I spent most of my pondering on the last question. We've lived in Cheyenne for 20 years, with two years off in D.C. for good behavior. Lots of changes during that time. But never as many as I've seen in the past several years.

Population is rising. It's not due strictly to oil field jobs. There are new jobs in manufacturing and construction. Many service industry jobs in restaurants and retail. Those latter jobs don't pay well but we need loads of them to keep our young people gainfully employed while they decide which college town or big city they will flee to. Federal and state government employment seems to be holding steady. That will change if U.S. House Republicans get their way with their Draconian budget. We shall see...

As I drove around, I took a few shortcuts to see what's happening. I ventured out to High Plains Road on I-25 South. The interchange went in first and it's a step up from the usual concrete-and-steel overpasses. Decorative iron railings and brick and rock used in the design. It's flanked by two roundabouts with plenty of directional signs for the roundabout-phobics amongst us. There are many, judging the letters to the editor in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The anti-roundabout crowd is really up in arms over a roundabout planned for one of the stupidest intersections known to humankind -- Pershing/Converse/19th Street. They've redesigned that three-way tangle many times but still it's one of the most dangerous intersections in town (along with Converse and Dell Range). Can't leave it the way it is. Some of the landowners, notably Frank Cole of Cole Shopping Center don't want to see changes. Stay tuned for more loony letters to the ed.

High Plains Road is the site of the new State of Wyoming Visitors Welcome Center. This will replace the old welcome center and rest stop on the west side of I-25 at College Drive. Many have wondered why the old center was built on the wrong side of the highway and is so hard to get to. It's nice, and has great views of the prairie and the Laramie Range. I sometimes hang out there and write to get some peace and quiet and inspiration.

But, as new truck stops and motels arose, it was harder and harder to access. There are no lights or dreaded roundabouts there to speed the flow of traffic. On a typical summer day, it's a madhouse of semis and RVs and lost tourists trying to find the entrance to the rest stop. Maybe this is next on the Wyoming Department of Transportation construction agenda.

The new visitors center is cool-looking and energy efficient. It's also on the east side of the highway which should make it easier to access. Here's a description from the RMH Group:
The new $16.6 million, 27,000-square-foot Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center will offer restroom facilities to travelers and will house the offices of Wyoming Travel and Tourism, which has expanded and now requires more space. The RMH Group provided energy-efficient mechanical and electrical design for this new facility. The Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center's mechanical and electrical systems are designed to limit energy demand while emphasizing the responsible use of on-site resources. Daylight harvesting will reduce electrical demand, and on-site solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines will utilize renewable resources to generate building power. A ground-source heat-pump system, featuring horizontal "slinky" geo-exchange coils buried beneath the project site will efficiently heat and cool the building. Public portions of the center will be conditioned by an in-floor radiant system coupled with displacement cooling and ventilation, further supporting the building's low-energy use profile. Construction of the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center is anticipated to be completed in late summer 2012.
Construction crews are clearing the site now.  From High Plains Road, you can look down on it and appreciate the view I-25 motorists will have of the facility as they cross into the state from Colorado. Man, what a cool building -- and energy efficient to boot. Let's go there and discover ways to spend all of our vacation money in Wyoming.

Also from High Plains Road, you can look to the west and see construction cranes working on a series of buildings in the business park. Not sure what's destined there. If you look a bit to the north, you can see the growing ranks of white wind turbines that are fueling a bit of the energy I use for my laptop ramblings. Coal trains head south along the railroad tracks that pass just to the east. The coal comes from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Further to the east oil drilling sites rise up out of an ancient ocean bed.  

Exciting times. There are many risks, especially with the fossil fuels Wyoming provides to the world. Global warming and poisoning of air and water. This will require governmental monitoring which is exactly why Republicans want to kill the E.P.A. No regulations mean more profits for those people who seemingly have enough profits. But that's the Republican plans. Screw the rest of you.

It's up to every one of us to see that we don't get screwed royally.

P.S.: I tried to find an image of new welcome center but failed. Anyone know where I can go to get one? I did find images of the ground-breaking but not very interesting. Seen one ground-breaking, you've seen them all. 

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