17 Mile Road improvement project more than $2M short

May 27, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission is concerned about a shortfall of more than $2 million needed for the 17 Mile Road reconstruction project.

Commissioners heard from county government transportation department superintendent Dave Pendleton last week about roughly $2.2 million lacking for the 8.3-mile project.

"How is that project so short?" commissioner Travis Becker asked Pendleton during a budget hearing Monday in Lander. "I thought that funding was all in place."

Pendleton said some funding spent on the 17 Mile Road bridge replacement project would have been used for reconstructing the east-west artery on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

While the tribes have an $8.2 million federal grant and the state government is contributing millions more in funding for the project, money needed as a match is lacking, Pendleton said.

"My concern is we weren't told this until about a month ago," Becker said. "It's troubling."

Pendleton replied, "Yeah, it is. It's troubling for me too. ... It's troubling to me, too, that they're looking to us for another ($2.2 million)."

The project's funding shortfall left the commission with questions about how the reconstruction would proceed.

"What happens if we can't come up with it?" commissioner Dennis Christensen asked.

"I don't know," Pendleton said.

The section of 17 Mile Road targeted for improvement will extend from Yellowcalf Road to the rebuilt bridge that had been damaged when the Little Wind River flooded in 2010.

The 17 Mile Road improvement project will be the road's latest major section under construction following the completion of the route's eastern side in years past.

The construction project will put tribal members to work while improving safety for motorists, officials said.

"The existing roadway, a paved wagon trail, lacks critical safety features which contribute to crashes and fatalities along the corridor," according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Transport-ation.

In addition to the road work, the project will include irrigation improvements alongside the route.

Pendleton estimated the reconstruction would take about three years.

"The tribes are going to do their portion of the dirt work for the project, but it's the asphalt, pavement, relocating the utilities" that's covered by other funding, he said.

Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson suggested contacting Wyoming Department of Transportation officials on the matter.

Contacting them could lead to "other sources of funding that might be there because I'd hate to see this thing get dropped. We've been pushing it for 20 years," Hickerson said.

"We certainly need to be proactive, and if the $2.2 million is being requested of the county, primarily I'd like to see us be proactive to explore other options for that funding," he said.

During the commission's meeting Tuesday, Christensen echoed the concerns from the previous day.

With the shortfall, "there's concern out there whether that road will be complete ... and I can't answer that," he said.

The Wind River Indian Reservation tribes are making history with their share of project funding because the money is traveling directly to the tribal governments instead of funneling through the state level.

The $8.2 million grant for the project is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation's program known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

The 17 Mile Road project was one of 46 transportation projects in 33 states and Puerto Rico that will receive a total of $511 million from the third round of the TIGER program from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Department of Transportation received 848 project applications from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., for a total of nearly $14.3 billion in requests, compared to the $511 million available.

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