Fatalities on 85 concern residents
GOSHEN COUNTY – In light of recent crashes just outside of Yoder and Lingle resulting in five fatalities in just the last few weeks, many Goshen County residents have raised questions of concern in regard to U.S. Highway 85 (US-85) between Torrington and LaGrange, as well as Lingle.
For any resident of Goshen County, we are quite aware that with various highways and roads winding in and out of the county, for some reason US-85 has, in some ways, seemed to be quite treacherous.
With a maximum speed limit of 70 mph, long and straight stretches that can go on for several miles and heavy traffic with out of state drivers, it would be fair to say if an accident does occur, this particular highway seems to be the place for them in recent times.
With what appears like a stream of accidents culminating in the recent and tragic deaths of five individuals, the question has once again been raised, is there a particular problem out on US-85?
Is it because of the highway itself? If so, what can be done in the future to prevent any accidents as well as fatalities?
According to the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s (WYDOT) Senior Public Relations Specialist, Jeff Goetz, it really comes down to looking at the official data and comparing it to other areas.
“Any time you have a wreck, especially when it’s fatal and an incredible apparent crash, those things stand out,” Goetz began. “From mile posts 55 to 95, which is roughly Torrington to LaGrange, that would encompass most of that area. There’s another 10 miles south of LaGrange before you get to the county line, so we are talking most of 85, which is a 40-mile stretch.”
According to Goetz, on behalf of WYDOT, the number of yearly incidents on US-85 has been relatively consistent since 2018. The data has not revealed much of an increase with accidents; however, has not shown a decrease either.
All in all, the total number of incidents remains relatively the same.
“Last years total was 50 crashes,” Goetz continued. “That could be a deer or something else being hit, but not necessarily injurious or things like that. 2021 had 45 accidents and 2020 had 50. I haven’t seen anything to believe there’s anything out of the ordinary this year. Since 2018, considering property damage, there have been 199 crashes.”
With 199 total crashes since 2018, nine of these incidents resulted in fatalities on US-85 within Goshen County.
“I wouldn’t say according to our data that it stands out,” Goetz continued. “One thing that you can say about that road is it’s a road that a lot of people take from a lot of different places. A lot of state traffic. It’s kind of like an interstate on a two-way road to get to the Black Hills from I-90 down to Denver, so there’s a lot of that traffic going on. So, you have a mix of different capabilities. I wouldn’t call or say anything is abnormal, and I wouldn’t say that anything is happening that isn’t happening anywhere else. There could be over 100 drivers on that highway any time of day. Maybe it’s kind of a changing of the times. If you get out from Yoder and head up to the big time, I think there’s some of that mentality in those rural areas. Unfortunately, 85 has become big and relative in terms of our world being a big conduit of driving to the Black Hills. They aren’t going to go on I-25 because it’s a better way.”
With such an increase in traffic on a narrow highway, Goetz continued this increases the risk of far more severe accidents that can result in severe injury or death. With that, both local and out of state drivers must consider driving with focus, reasonable caution and should not be exceeding what is already a steadfast speed limit.
“A lot of what we see is inattention,” Goetz continued. “That is the predominant cause statewide. It’s something that has taken their mind off of the roads for however long it takes, and it doesn’t take long. We have very dramatic crashes, and there is nothing slow about any of these horrific crashes that make the news. The motorcycle crash outside Yoder was horrific. There’s no way it wouldn’t be when you have a speed limit of 70 mph, and someone is going 80 to 90. It’s going to be bad, and these things really stick out. When you have a small population, you don’t have a ton of these, but they’ll really stand out [when they happen].”
When it came to awareness on how to possibly reduce the number of accidents on US-85, Goetz advocated that it really comes down to personal awareness, safety and responsibility when driving on a fast, narrow highway.
Especially one that leads a large number of travelers to popular destinations in Wyoming, as well as South Dakota.
“Well as far as the road, the traffic volume is where it should be and isn’t sufficient for a four-lane highway,” Goetz said. “We are not to that point. By and large that highway is a good driving road, especially on 85. Going north can put you to sleep or be distracted because it is a lot of straight roads. I’m an advocate of education and keeping aware. That’s a driver’s responsibility. Is there an answer? It’s [about] different driving experience. From where I’m from, any two-lane paved road has a town every 10-15 miles that I will run into. Out there that’s not the case. It’s 100 miles of nothing, unless you stop in Hawk Springs.”
With such a long highway with not many areas to stop or slow down, Goetz mentioned an old video from decades ago that still has commonsense value when a driver feels like they are losing their focus on an “endless” road.
“There’s really no place to stop, but I used to show driving videos from 1962. The family goes and gets all piled up in a station wagon, and every 60 or 80 miles, they pull over and take a break. How many people do that anymore? There’s really not a common or practical place to do that, but then fatigue comes into play. Take a break if you need. If you feel fatigued, pull over.”
For more information or questions regarding US-85, feel free to visit www.dot.state.wy.us.