Dry Piney winter-range connections gain preparations

MARBLETON – With almost $18 million in funding gathered, Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Dry Piney project to connect wildlife with their critical winter ranges on each side of Highway 189 is ready to roll.

The project’s design – with essential input from Wyoming Game and Fish biologists – called for eight underground arched box culverts to be installed along a 19-mile stretch so moose, deer and pronghorn can access winter range without having to cross the highway itself.

Now nine of these installations are in the design.

On Sept. 9, WYDOT invited the public to a second open house at Marbleton Town Hall to announce the award of its construction contract to low bidder, civil engineering firm McMillen LLC in Idaho, and the project’s green light.

WYDOT’s Stephanie Harsha and District 3 engineer Peter Strinchcomb said the firm’s bid was accepted July 15 at $13.68 million “for everything.”

Over the years, wildlife including moose are killed by vehicles as herds and solo animals cross the highway often in the same places due to natural terrain, according to WYDOT’s display. Wildlife fitted with Game and Fish radio collars “and experience” also help pinpoint the worst places for collisions that cause human injury, expenses and wildlife losses, one WYDOT panel shows. This project focuses on Mile Marker 86 at LaBarge to MM 105 at Dry Piney Road.

“The bid came in low so we were able to add another box at the Calpet Road crossing,” Harsha said.

The Dry Piney connectivity project is long in the making, with an initial design in 2009 and a long pause until 2019 when WYDOT and Game and Fish each committed $1.25 million. Later that year, WYDOT received a BUILD grant of $14.54 million and scheduled the first public meeting.

Last year’s meeting was canceled due to COVID and the two state agencies continued to work on the project’s design.

Besides installing the eight – now nine – box culverts, the scope includes grading, milling plant mix, guardrails, cattle guards and almost 15 miles of wildlife fencing, Strinchcomb explained. Others funds are committed by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Knobloch Family Foundation, Muley Fanatic Foundation, WYldlife Fund, anonymous private donors and Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resource Trust Account.

The committed cash total is $17.868 million.

Also, Sublette County commissioners pledged in-kind donations of gravel, road base materials and equipment, according to Road & Bridge supervisor Billy Pape, also at the open house.

The county’s donation was estimated at $159,000 to $188,000 but how much gravel is needed keeps going up, he added.

“It went up again last week,” Pape said. “Right now we’re at about 22,000 cubic yards; if we add another structure, it could be another 3,000.”

Game and Fish Big Game Migration Coordinator Jill Randall said WYDOT will handle all contracting: “We talked about solutions that make sense on the ground. The project is actually focused more on the winter range than migration.”

Some animals cross Highway 189 frequently, Randall explained. “Some might move back and forth daily. Some individuals might never encounter the highway and some might cross it 40 times.”

The Dry Piney project’s timeline calls for ordering the box culverts and other material this fall, when WYDOT could schedule construction detours as needed. Construction is slated to begin in spring 2022 with a contract completion date of October 2023.