SUBLETTE COUNTY – Drivers on Highway 191 may have noticed new speed limits signs north of Daniel Junction and in the Bondurant area in recent weeks. And more speed limit changes are coming on Highway 189 between LaBarge and Big Piney as well.
According to Darin Kaufman, district traffic engineer for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), the changes are all part of WYDOT’s effort to improve roadway safety throughout the state.
The speed limits in Bondurant were increased recently to 70 mph in conjunction with the Wyoming Legislature’s vote to increase speed limits throughout the state’s highway system.
“People were already driving at that speed so we were just trying to catch up to what they’re doing,” Kaufman said. “They’re driving to what (speed) they feel is comfortable and what feels safe to them. So we’re just kind of reflecting that.”
Most of those increases went into effect last year, but for the highway in the Bondurant area – which stretches between the Rim and Hoback Canyon – WYDOT had to wait until this spring.
“We did a (engineering) study just to confirm that going to 70 was the appropriate thing to do,” Kaufman said. “And we completed the study in the fall.”
With snow already on the ground, WYDOT had to wait until spring to make the changes.
“This was our first opportunity to get in there with the snow being so great in that area,” Kaufman said, while underscoring that the speed limit in Bondurant, itself, will stay at 55 mph. “Those limits remain unchanged.”
Nighttime speed limits
WYDOT is in the process of conducting a wide range of nighttime speed limit tests in the state, hoping to collect enough data to “determine whether these nighttime speeds are effective or not” in reducing vehicle-animal collisions, according to Kaufman.
In April 2016, WYDOT installed the first of several nighttime speed limits intended for Sublette County. It stretches from Pinedale down to Boulder and limits speeds year-round to 65 mph during the day and 55 mph at night.
“We have a lot of resident animals there,” Kaufman said. “They don’t migrate out. They kind of linger in that area.”
WYDOT is now adding two additional sites in the county to its nighttime speed tests, but the two new ones will be seasonal speed limits.
The new nighttime speed limit between mile-markers 122 and 129 now show daytime speed limits of 70 mph and nighttime speed limits of 55 mph. But those will only be in effect during migration periods – May through June and October through November – as determined by WYDOT’s wildlife biologist.
“We have flashing beacons on those that would tell the motorists when the nighttime speed is in effect,” Kaufman said.
The other nighttime speed limit signage will be between mile markers 80 and 92 on Highway 189, “which is basically south of LaBarge to just south of Big Piney – trying to get that hotspot there of deer collisions,” Kaufman said.
Those seasonal speed limits will be in effect during the winter months and are set to begin this fall – November 2017 through April 2018. Those, too, will have flashing beacons to notify motorists when the nighttime speed limits are being enforced.
And for WYDOT, “nighttime” begins about 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise since “animals are still moving around during that twilight,” Kaufman said.
Following WYDOT’s two-year study, the department hopes to determine whether the nighttime speeds are effective or not in reducing collisions with wildlife.
“We’ll look at the data and determine whether we want to pursue these devices any further in these same locations or other locations,” Kaufman said, adding that it’s “still undecided whether these (reduced nighttime speed limits) are effective tools or not.”