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Crossing the river

Sep 5, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

A second road and bridge out of Riverton might prove too big to tackle

For years Fremont County elected leaders, business people and travelers dreamed of a "second crossing," meaning another way to drive across the Wind River from Riverton to the west.

While we humans appreciate the notion of dreams becoming reality, this idea may prove impossible. Preliminary studies haven't given planners much to go on.

Last year various citizens put their heads together and decided to take a serious run at the idea. The necessary cross sections were represented or consulted -- county government, city government, state government, transportation, construction, agriculture, emergency management, real estate and finance.

What they discovered was that this would have been a lot easier to achieve in the past than it would be now. Ideally, the time to have done it would have been when Riverton was still young. Checking news accounts from the city's founding days, local residents were so excited about getting a good bridge and suitable road across the Wind River the first time that the idea of establishing a second crossing really never crossed their minds. Doing it once was a landmark accomplishment, and a difficult one. Doing it a second time seemed not only unnecessary, but unthinkable.

Tack on a hundred years of commercial and agricultural development and private land acquisition, and whatever problems were evident in 1906 are compounded enormously.

Where would the crossing be? Who would decide? What if landowners weren't in agreement? Would tribal governments sign on? Would the land be "condemned" and seized for public right of way? On whose authority?

How far north or south could the crossing be and still be of practical use? Where would it connect back to established highways? Would it be a municipal road? A county road? A state road? Who would maintain it? Who would pay for what? What if court challenges cropped up?

Some of these questions were easy enough to answer, and a preliminary proposal was recommended. But old questions begat new ones, and the feasibility of the project seemed perpetually in question.

This would be a hugely expensive proposition. Even studying it has run up a substantial pricetag, although costs have been covered. Once it came time to start construction, though, the dollars would be mind-boggling.

Difficult things can get done. There are examples everywhere. Sometimes a daunting concept can be brought to fruition when there is a supremely dedicated person or persons, supplemented by influence and money, to maintain the almost fanatical focus needed to carry it forward for the years -- yes, years -- required to see it through changes in the economy, political leadership, public opinion and land use sensibilities.

A breakthrough could be found. But it appears the idea of a second crossing from Riverton has not generated the kind of public enthusiasm and institutional momentum needed. Short of a major donation of land at the right point and a demanding call from the public -- not to mention an all but unprecedented commitment to cooperation among the various factions -- the planning seems unlikely to proceed much further.

Some of the best minds in our county are thinking about this, and it is an exciting idea. But one thing the analysts learned was that there is a good reason the Wind River crossing from Riverton was put where it was, when it was. It was imperative then, the location obvious, the obstacles relatively few. Now it appears that there are equally good reasons that putting a crossing anywhere else in the Riverton Valley will be difficult, perhaps inordinately so.

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Editor's note: Could and should a second crossing of the Wind River from Riverton be undertaken? Write a letter to the editor: ranger@wyoming.com or P.O. Box 993, Riverton, WY 82501