Wyoming has an abundance of natural resources, including coal, oil, and natural gas. Coal mining itself contributes approximately 70 percent of mineral royalty money to the state annually. Many mines, as well as oil and natural gas extraction facilities, are situated on a stretch of highway between Douglas and Gillette: Highway 59 (WYO 59). This highway spans along the heart of the Powder River Basin, which is home to eight coal mine operations including the world’s largest coal mine with a workforce of over 1,500 people. As traffic has increased on this rural, two-lane highway, so have fatalities. Further, high-volume traffic and the high percentage of large trucks on WYO 59 limited passing opportunities. To address the safety concerns caused by increased mining and other mineral extraction traffic mixed with school buses, trucks, and workforce commuters, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) determined that passing lanes targeting specific sections would be an effective safety countermeasure.
Construction work on Highway 59 south of Gillette widened this stretch to five lanes. This change dramatically improved traffic flow and alleviated congestion for traffic turning to WYO 387 to Casper as well as traffic to the mines. The new multi-lane design forced trucks to slow down and make turning movements without impacting traffic flow. Passing lanes have improved safety, operation, and mobility for highway users and have reduced delays from following slow-moving vehicles.
Since making the passing lane and other improvements, WYDOT found that the corridor is experiencing a statistically significant 44 percent reduction in total crashes and a 27 percent reduction in fatal crashes. The additional passing lanes achieved the overall transportation goal of reducing fatalities and alleviating the growing pains of this popular highway by improving traffic flow to and from this vital energy corridor.