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February 21, 2012 8:14 am

EDITORIAL: Funding Wyoming’s highways

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Unless Wyoming lawmakers pave the way for adequate funding, more roads and bridges in the state will deteriorate.

One-fifth of Wyoming’s roads are in poor shape, and a report released last week warned that number could nearly double by 2022 if state lawmakers don’t provide enough funding for roadwork. The report, released last week by the Washington, D.C.-based group TRIP, also warned Wyoming may see an increase in deteriorating bridges.

The report highlights real concerns, but not new ones.

For years, state Department of Transportation leaders have said that Wyoming needs to put more money toward improving and maintaining our roads.

Just listen to what they’ve been saying.

“The bottom line is that state roadways are deteriorating at a faster rate than we have the ability to fix based on current revenue,” said Jay Gould, a WYDOT district engineer, in a 2010 news release. “We’ll see more situations where, despite all the efforts of maintenance, we’ll have to close a lane for safety reasons until we get the surface patched up.”

“Our system is definitely deteriorating. At current funding levels, there is no way the system will not deteriorate,” said Lowell Fleenor, a WYDOT district engineer, in the Casper Star-Tribune last summer.

Of course, it’s costly.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation needs $134.5 million per year  to maintain the state’s roads and bridges. That’s just maintaining roads — not building new ones.

Our corner of the Big Horn Basin has seen the value in maintaining and improving roads.

The current Powell-Cody highway project is the last major reconstruction in sight. During a district meeting last June, a WYDOT engineer said major projects like the rebuild of U.S. 14-A between Powell and Cody will not be possible at reduced funding levels. While it’s been long haul, the improved highway is key to the growth of our county and the safety of motorists.

Statewide, Wyoming’s road system fuels economic growth and stability. Especially in a rural state, highways and interstates provide essential lifelines for agriculture, tourism, energy development and other industries.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation does a good job with what they have, but they’re limited by a lack of resources.

Gov. Matt Mead recognizes this. He proposed $100 million for highways in his budget, but said it’s not enough to keep up with maintenance. The governor has said the state must look at alternative or additional revenue resources.

Wyoming legislators have several opportunities this budget session to provide more money for the state’s highways. Proposed bills include ending the ethanol tax credit and crediting sales tax collected on the sale of off-road fuel to the Highway Fund rather than the General Fund. Other highway spending measures already failed in the first week of the session.

As legislators consider Wyoming’s $3.2 billion budget, finding ways to adequately fund highways must be a priority.

We share the same concern as House Minority Whip Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, who recently asked: “Should we sock money away in the permanent mineral trust fund and let the roads fall apart?”

State lawmakers should be applauded for their efforts to save for a rainy day, but they also must recognize Wyoming’s current needs.

Neglecting Wyoming’s roads will only cost more in the long run.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 21, 2012 12:37 pm posted by TN

    Bring that another gas guzzler tax to help pay for road maintenance,there are plenty of gas hogs running the roads anymore and most do NOT need a gas hog 4x4.These gas hogs are just a macho fad.

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