Saturday, August 20, 2011

No monorail for Cheyenne, but plenty of travel thrills and chills at I-25 & College Drive interchange

The Feds are sending $6 million in grants to Wyoming for some much-needed transportation projects.

Unfortunately, my pitch for a Cheyenne monorail went down in flames. Probably a good thing considering Springfield's terrible experience with monorailism.

But Cheyenne did get some much-needed transportation help with a $400,000 grant to address the mess that is the I-25 & College Drive interchange. It's not a big stretch to imagine that Homer Simpson designed this interchange. It features three big truck stops, the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center and a plethora of fast-food joints. More stuff is being built as part of the new business park. Down College Drive to the east are two of Cheyenne's four high schools (South and Triumph), several new housing developments, as well as the county's community college. To the west, a new road has been built to funnel construction traffic to the business park. 

To be fair, most of the businesses sprang up after the interchange was built. Now it's time to play catch-up. 

To get to almost anywhere from the I-25 on-ramps, you have to turn left without the benefit of traffic lights or even roundabouts. When you come up the ramp from I-25 South and want to turn left to Love's, you have to watch out for traffic turning left on to the interstate access ramp in front of you, AND for traffic exiting McDonald's or the rest area or the travel plaza headed across the viaduct to I-25 North. This wouldn't be too terrible if most of the traffic wasn't made up huge semis bearing windmill blades, oil field machinery and monorail parts for the recently announced Wheatland-to-Glendo Transportation Corridor (get more info from the good folks at Wheaterville -- tell them I sent you).  

Add to the motorized confusion a recent influx of hobos. Not sure where they're coming from, but there is a new generation of hitchhikers and bindlestiffs. It's summer, and everyone is traveling. A lot of them seem to be running out of gas at the interchange. "Need gas money to get me and pregnant wife to Denver. God bless." I give money when I have it. Usually I am stopped behind 12 semis so have plenty of time to look under the seats for spare change. Another sign held by a guy in a nice suit: "Ran out of gas on way to job interview with Standard & Poors. Will accept major credit cards." I might have imagined that one. But not this one. The other day I saw a guy on the I-25 North on-ramp with this sign: "I-80 and Hawaii." He did look a bit like an aging surfer. I gave him creds for creativity. And creativity helps when you're trying to catch a ride. I still remember the hitchhiker I met in California in 1972. He carried a five-gallon gas tank which contained all of his worldly goods. "People more likely to stop if they think you've run out of gas," he said. He did admit that some motorists were not pleased at being duped but most went ahead and gave him a ride anyway. I have a soft spot for hitchhikers. I have a soft spot for anyone trying to get from one place to another without a vehicle.

But they are in the minority at Cheyenne's wacky interchange.

This week's announcement from U.S. Secretary of Transportation carried this wording about the Laramie County grant:
$400,000: Laramie County -- Improve traffic operations at Interstate 25/College Drive interchange in Cheyenne to reduce crashes. 
This is always a worthy goal. I drive this interchange almost every day delivering my daughter to work at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter. It's convenient for me to travel I-25 from the north side of town. Convenient until I get to the College Drive interchange. I sometimes travel through downtown to Lincolnway and then over the railroad tracks to Southwest Drive and the Shelter. But most times the crossing is blocked by a half-dozen trains. I didn't realize there were than many tracks through Cheyenne. But apparently there are. 

Cheyenne is a transportation hub. And we better start acting like it. Problem is, traffic in all forms is increasing. The Tea Party hates gubment and gubment takes care of the roads. Tea Partiers not only want no tax increases -- they want to cut taxes and strangle (or drown) gubment. It's possible they all flit around in autogyros. But even then, airports are crowded and we have a tiny, crowded, gubment-subsidized one in Cheyenne. Where will they park those autogyros?

One more thing. About half of the $6 million coming to WY in these recent grants go to non-motorized transportation projects in Teton, Sublette and Fremont counties. I've been a motorist for 44 years but a bicyclist longer than that. Now a lapsed cyclist (bad knees, lazy bones, etc.), I don't begrudge funding to bike paths and recreation trails. The one in Teton County is especially expensive but will bear much fruit, green-wise, as it will be used by millions of residents and tourists over the years. Yes, Teton County is disliked by many Wyomingites. But it is a huge economic driver and a benefit to the entire state. Three million tourists a year come annually to the national parks and many are taxed as they spend money in Jackson and Wilson and Teton Village. The airport is the best in the state and the roads are (mostly) in great shape. The road over Togwotee Pass to The Hole is being rebuilt this summer. Be prepared for delays! 

You can read about these new grants at the Casper Star-Tribune

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