Road project in Bighorns kicks off with public input

DAYTON — Reconstruction on 11 miles of U.S. Highway 14 south of Burgess Junction will improve safety and accessibility on a route that has exceeded the average statewide crash rate seven out of 10 years between 1997 and 2006, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“The highway south of Burgess Junction has not been improved for decades,” WYDOT District Engineer Mark Gillett said. “It’s not in really bad condition, but it’s getting there. The other thing we’ve noticed is there are a lot of folks up there in the summer who see wildlife and just stop and there’s no shoulders on that road.
“It creates a safety concern for us on the highway, so we’re wanting to reconstruct the road and put wider shoulders on it so people can pull off and take pictures wherever they see wildlife,” he said. “That will be a big safety improvement. Otherwise, we just want to improve the road and upgrade it to current standards.”
Gillett and other representatives from WYDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Forest Service were on hand at an open house Wednesday at the community center in Dayton to answer questions and receive input on the proposed Burgess Junction South project.

The three agencies have initiated scoping — a process used to determine the scope of significant issues related to a project. They are asking community members to provide input about how the Burgess Junction South project may affect cultural, recreational, environmental and economic resources in the area. Comments will be accepted through July 8.

Information received will likely be used to prepare an environmental assessment, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

WYDOT Environmental Manager Kevin Powell said environmental considerations will include wildlife, wetlands, cultural resources, ranchers needs and recreational use. He said the design will try to work around wetlands areas, but if it can’t, WYDOT will mitigate the wetlands by creating another wetlands area nearby.

“One of our concerns with wildlife is vehicle/animal collisions,” Powell said. “We want to identify hot spots for collisions and determine if there is something that can be done to bring those collisions down.”

Reconstruction work on Highway 14 began in the 1990s and has extended from Dayton to Burgess Junction. The proposed Burgess Junction South project will cover the portion of highway between the intersection of Highways 14 and 14A at Burgess Junction south to the Sheridan County line. It will be the last section of highway in the Bighorn National Forest to be improved.

Proposed improvements include widening the road with 6-foot shoulders, fixing drainage areas and bringing curves up to National Highway System design standards. WYDOT will also add a “clear zone,” which essentially keeps all obstructions — sign posts, trees, etc. — out of a specified width around the highway.

The project was originally slated for 2021, but Gillett asked to move the construction date to 2017. Scoping and environmental assessment will take approximately one year. Public comments will be gathered throughout that time and incorporated into the design process, which should last about two years.

General public reaction has been minimal, Gillett said. One resident with a cattle grazing permit in the area asked that right-of-way fence be installed on both sides of the highway to prevent cattle from wandering onto the highway.

There is no proposed project cost for Burgess Junction South at this time, Gillett said.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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