(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Recently, a district engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation gave deep insight into the organization’s mission and challenges during this unusually snowy winter season in Casper.

Mark Ayen, a district engineer for WYDOT District 2, was the featured speaker during this week’s Kiwanis luncheon in Casper. Ayen said WYDOT has five districts, describing his as running from “Kaycee to Chugwater, Muddy Gap to Nebraska, so it’s kind of that east-central location.”

Ayen spoke for about 30 minutes during the lunch, at times taking questions from attendees.

“I have the job that everyone is super interested in, but that no one knows very much about,” he said before sharing information on how the organization that keeps Wyoming’s roads maintained and open for traffic operates.

Numerous points were discussed during his speech, highlights of which are as follows:

  • There are roughly 200 people working in District 2 when fully staffed.
  • “There’s a lot of money being designated right now from the federal government to be used on bridges, so you’re going to see a lot of bridge work as you drive around,” he said. Statewide, there are 95 bridge rehabilitation projects and 37 bridge replacement projects slated. There is a shortage of contractors in the state who can do this kind of work, he noted.
  • The project to replace the Interstate 25 bridge over Walsh Drive is in “the last throes of construction,” but crews are waiting for a break in the weather at this point. However, the project is on track to open sometime in May.
  • The old bridge over Walsh Drive was more than 50 years old and far past its designed lifespan, he said. “We were spending a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of energy making the surface drivable.” The new design also improves drivability and shortens the bridge span.
  • The next WYDOT bridge projects in Casper are “the biggie,” which will be a roughly $45 million project to replace five bridges, including the bridge over Center Street and three bridges over the North Platte River. “The way we’ll be handling traffic on this project is going to be challenging,” he said, adding that the completion date is expected to be the end of 2025.
  • When asked why WYDOT allows semi-truck traffic on Outer Drive, Ayen said those decisions are up to the City Council. “The city would have to designate that as no trucks,” he said. “As an agency, we can’t designate who can be on what road.”
  • WYDOT is down some 62 snowplow drivers statewide, he said. “I have a crew in Shirley Rim that’s supposed to be five to six people, and it’s currently three people,” he said. “I have a crew in Muddy Gap that’s supposed to be six people, and it’s currently two people. So we’re having to send Casper [crews] as far as we can.” He said crews from Rawlins and other areas are also helping with shortages. “At one point I was down 36 plow drivers in my district — we were the hardest hit — but we’re making headway and we’ve hired a bunch over the last two months,” he said.
  • Drivers hitting snowplows is an issue. “I’ve had four plows hit this winter just in my district,” he said. “We have quite a few [drivers] that just run right into the back [of a plow]. Two winters ago we had a highway patrolman do that. A lot of times people don’t realize how far out the plow is.”
  • “[Snowplow drivers] are all CDL holders, so they can only drive for so many hours,” he said. “So when you have everybody out, at some point they have to stop, and if you don’t have extra people then you can’t do anything.”