Northeast Hays a parking lot with I-70 closure
Long haul trucker Nickson Watiri on Monday was hauling a trailer of food to Utah down Interstate 70 from Kansas City, Kans. under clear skies and dry pavement when he was forced to exit at Hays around 1 p.m.
Monday at 3 p.m., his tractor-trailer rig was one of a dozen lining 43rd Street, south of Walmart. All the streets of northeast Hays around the Interstate were a parking lot Monday, of cars and trucks forced off the Interstate by record snows Sunday in Colorado, including Denver, which reported 27 inches.
Kansas Highway Patrol officers were directing the heavy traffic coming from the westbound off-ramp onto Vine Street/U.S. Highway 183.
Even the newly paved parking lot at Walmart on U.S. 183 and Vine Street was filled with trucks, presumably allowed in light of a situation with no one to blame but Mother Nature.
"I just got off here a couple hours ago," Watiri said. "Nowhere to go."
Mike Fullington, had come from Springfield, Mo. and was headed for Portland, Ore., on I-70 after other east-west interstate routes in Nebraska and South Dakota had closed. He was forced off I-70 at Hays on Sunday around 4 p.m.
"80 is shut down, 90 is shut down," Fullington said as his truck idled with dozens of other rigs in the Walmart parking lot. "Big storm in Colorado. We was hoping it would open by the time we got here."
His trailer was full of FedEx freight, he said, acknowledging those packages now, "might be delayed a little bit."
Early Monday afternoon, Fullington had been told I-70 wouldn't re-open until noon Tuesday.
"We have an option to get a motel, but they're all booked, so yes, we're going to sleep in the truck," he said.
I-70 closed in Hays Sunday evening after closing earlier at 7:30 p.m. at WaKeeney and before that at 6:15 p.m. in Colby.
The first to close was Goodland, at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, according to Kansas Highway Patrol Officer Tod Hileman, KHP's public resource officer for northwest Kansas.
"Colorado closed, and when they close, we have to close," said Hileman. "Then when the hotels start filling up at Goodland, we move it back east. You can't just have thousands of people stuck in one town with nowhere to stay."
Truckers in Hays were wondering Monday afternoon why I-70 hadn't reopened, with the storm subsided, the Interstate clear, and the temperatures mild.
"It's 40 degrees and not even snowing in WaKeeney," said Jack Collins, who exited the freeway around 2:30 p.m. Monday with the load he was hauling from Kansas City to Denver. "It was closed last night, but I don't understand why it's closed all the way back here. They told us 30 minutes and that was an hour ago."
Hileman said he understands, but the challenge was in Colorado.
"I know my bosses were on the phone all day long with Colorado yesterday," he said, explaining the closure process as one that takes into account the whole westbound Interstate.
"What people don't understand, is it wasn't bad in Hays or anywhere in Kansas, but if we open up they'll head into Colorado and then we'll have thousands of people stuck in Burlington," Hileman said, referencing the first community of any size on westbound I-70 into Colorado. "I know people get frustrated."
It was 4 p.m. Monday when the Kansas Highway Patrol opened westbound I-70 at Hays, lifting the orange and white barricades to allow traffic to continue through. Immediately, trucks and cars were climbing the westbound ramp to leave Hays and jump on the Interstate.
"We get it the worst because we're a bigger town, and we can better accommodate," Hileman said. "Everybody pitches in."