Scenic byway to open May 25


Max Miller

A rotary snowplow creates a makeshift blizzard while clearing snowdrifts.

By Max Miller

Since May 9, six Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) workers from Saratoga and a mechanic from Rawlins have been working 10 hour days in sub-freezing conditions to get the HWY 130 scenic byway ready for summer traffic. WYDOT workers on the Saratoga side of the pass include, Kevin Treat, Kirk Pantle, Billy Zeiger, John Rimmer, Ken O'Leary, Rawlins mechanic Tony Robidoux and crew boss Scott Kinniburgh.

Kinniburgh said that particularly wet, heavy snow has made for slow progress, but the team is on track to open ahead of schedule, by May 25.

A WYDOT crew of about the same size and with similar equipment is working its way Westward from the Centennial side of the 130 byway, and the two teams will soon meet in the middle of the pass, Kinniburgh said. Kinniburgh said that the section of road that the Western Crew was responsible for was about 6.3 miles long. The Eastern crew was working a similar length of road, he said.

Though it's nearly full-bore summer in the Valley, at the high elevations in the pass snow is still piled up in 10 foot drifts. Removing these walls of frozen material is a daunting task – and one that requires equipment that's a little higher caliber than an ordinary plow truck.

Kinniburgh said that the Western crew working from the Saratoga side of the pass includes three rotary style plow trucks that first thresh the snow and then shoot it off to one side. There are also two bulldozers to push through particularly challenging drifts, and one ordinary plow truck to mop up what's left over after the rotaries and bulldozers have completed a first pass. A fuel truck is on site to gas up the thirsty heavy equipment, and two pickup trucks make supply runs to town and shuttle workers between different sections of the pass. In total, six work vehicles and three support vehicles are employed on the West side – and a similar number are deployed on the Eastern (Centennial) side, according to Kinniburgh.

Sitting in one of the trail-blazing rotary trucks, the landscape does not exactly fly past. With as much accumulated snow as there is at the higher elevations, the rotaries make about 10 or 12 feet of progress a minute.

Mechanic Tony Robidoux said the rotaries can and often do clear up to 300 tons of snow per hour. Even so, Robidoux said there were about 10 total days worth of plow work for the two crews to complete each year. He said that broken axles and other mechanical issues weren't uncommon because of the strain such large amounts of wet snow could put on the machines.

Despite the challenging conditions inherent to working in such chilly high altitudes, Kinniburgh said that his crews have never had any serious injuries or accidents on the pass. A few fender benders and routine mechanical difficulties are the worst the WYDOT workers have encountered while opening up the beautiful mountain road, he said.

After the WYDOT workers finish clearing the 130 byway, they will turn their attention to clearing and opening HWY 70 between Baggs and Encampment, Kinniburgh said. Thanks to their efforts, motorists will soon be able to appreciate some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Wyoming once again.

Max Miller

WYDOT crew boss Scott Kinniburgh gives a plow operator the go-ahead to start his equipment.


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