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New truck lot to be built near Evanston to help with I-80 winter closures

Jan 18, 2024, 10:21 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2024, 5:54 am

EVANSTON, Wyo. — When you walk into For Pete’s Sake Cafe in Evanston, Wyoming, you’ll find it is tough to pick out just one thing on the menu. Good service, food and coffee are something owner Pete Bass prides himself on.

“I have always wanted to run a coffee shop,” Bass said. “I started a business here, and people are really loyal to me and stuff. Yeah, Evanston is a great place.”

Bass is from the area, and even though he loves the city and the people, he knows the cold this time of year isn’t for everyone.

“Business can be tough. The winter months are just hard here. January, February, March are really rough,” he said.

Customers ordering at For Pete's Sake Cafe.

Customers ordering at For Pete’s Sake Cafe. (KSL TV)

That’s true, especially when Interstate 80, which runs through Evanston, is shut down during rough weather. When the Wyoming Department of Transportation closes I-80 at Evanston, like it did several times last winter, all that traffic stops there.

Hotel rooms are full, and restaurants can be overwhelmed. Even for a café owner who relies on as many customers as possible, it can be too much.

“It can get pretty crazy here,” Bass said. “There’s no parking, you know. That is the big deal.”

There are also often hundreds, if not thousands, of 18-wheelers that must stop in Evanston. When big rig drivers have nowhere to park, it gets messy.

“We don’t blame the 18-wheeler drivers. They are just trying to make a living and want to get on the road, but they have nowhere to go,” Bass said. “They end up parking down the middle of the road, and then your roads start getting narrower and narrower.”

Main Street and 9th Street in Evanston.

Main Street and 9th Street in Evanston. (KSL TV)

That is the park Evanston Mayor Kent Williams worries about the most. When streets are gridlocked, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars have a tough time getting around quickly if there is an emergency.

“It is kind of scary at times. There is certainly a public safety issue that comes into play when these rolling closures happen,” Williams said. “Our community absolutely fills up with trucks, and it is not safe at times for them or for the people who live here or are visiting here because there are so many trucks, and they have got nowhere to go. You can’t get on the freeway and keep going.”

Recently, the WYDOT released preliminary plans to build a truck parking lot at the closure gate on I-80. The agency says the project will cost about $33 million, of which nearly $27 million will come from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

“This is a crucial project for Wyoming. It’s an investment in our road infrastructure that will help address pedestrian and vehicle safety hazards that occur when winter weather forces the closure of I-80,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement. “It will alleviate the impacts to the community caused by hundreds of tractor-trailers seeking somewhere safe to park.”

I-80 near Evanston, Wyoming where truckers pass by.

I-80 near Evanston, Wyoming where truckers pass by. (KSL TV)

The parking lot will be large enough for close to 400 18-wheelers. Williams just wishes it was bigger.

“It is probably not enough to really eliminate the issue or the problem, but it is something, and it is a step in the right direction, and so we’re excited about that,” he said.

Bass loves the idea, even if it means fewer customers walking into his cafe.

“It is a benefit to the city. It keeps it from being so congested, and it is a benefit to the truckers because they don’t have to have them knocking on their doors all night saying you got to move your truck, you can’t park here,” said Bass.

There are a couple of Evanston City Council members who don’t like the plan because of concerns it could make Evanston look like one big truck stop. A date has not been set yet to begin building the parking lot.

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New truck lot to be built near Evanston to help with I-80 winter closures