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'Preserve' trumping 'improve' in WyDOT fund squeeze

Jun 8, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer

The statewide picture given by Wyoming Department of Transportation staff was the same as last year's report: Preservation is the department's focus in upcoming years.

"Our goal is we are going to manage the decline," district engineer Shelby Carlson told a room of roughly 10 individuals during a public meeting May 30 in Lander.

For 2012, Carlson said the department has $360.5 million allocated for construction, which includes one-time state funds and federal emergency management dollars totalling $70.8 million.

WyDOT estimates that it needs $428.5 million annually to maintain the state's highway system at the quality it is now.

At the same time, Carlson said, when adjusted for inflation, the money available this year is more than $220 million behind the dollar at its 1999 value.

Preservation priority

By 2015, Carlson said the department wants to have about 63 percent of all projects aimed at preservation versus improvement and reconstruction.

Within District 5, which includes Fremont County, Carlson estimates about 50 percent of projects will be put toward preservation.

She did not know what the percentage was with current work but said the department has begun to move in that direction.

"Bad roads are going to get worse," Carlson said.

Priority will be placed on keeping good- and fair-condition roads the way they are.

Rehab funds slashed

Carlson said preventative and minor rehabilitation projects would each be increased by 10 percent, while major rehabilitation will be slashed by 20 percent.

"You're just not going to see much (reconstruction)," she said.

She added that drivers "are going to feel the pain" because WyDOT won't be able to make improvements on roads that are experiencing higher traffic numbers.

Anticipating a drop in legislative funds in the coming years, the department has planned for construction budgets in the low $300-million range.

Also by 2015, Carlson said the district will transfer 25 percent, about $10 million, to fund other districts. She said the majority of that would be put into Interstate 80.

"This is the painful part for us," Carlson said.

The district's current budget is $55 million, which included a boost because of flood damage repairs. Next year the funding is expected to be $39 million. Losing funds in 2015 will put the district's budget at roughly $29 million to $30 million.

Tell legislators

State Rep. Rita Campbell, R-Shoshoni, asked Carlson to share this information with interim legislative committees.

Another funding complication, Carlson said, was that it's difficult for WyDOT to adjust for budget fluctuations. The department must spend what is allocated to it. She said when a large amount of legislative funds comes in at the last minute, it's hard to have projects ready to go.

Fremont County commissioner Keja Whiteman asked if the department had any "shovel-ready projects" in case extra funding did become available.

Carlson said WyDOT has a list of "easy" candidate jobs that have been through design work and could be put through to construction quickly.

However, WyDOT would like to be able to put extra funds to use for bigger, more-important projects, but generally the design phase takes too long to get them going in time.

"It's difficult to manage, but it's the kind of world we live in," said district construction engineer Keith Compton.

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