WYDOT performs spring work

Wyoming Department of Transportation crews perform springtime work in this 2019 photo. WYDOT is facing an annual funding gap of about $354 million, a substantial portion of which is needed to maintain the state’s roads, according to a new report reviewed by a legislative committee Monday.

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Transportation is facing an annual funding gap of about $354 million, a substantial portion of which is needed to maintain the state’s roads, according to a new report reviewed by a legislative committee on Monday.

Though WYDOT’s funding woes are not a new topic, lawmakers had previously been basing decisions on a 10-year-old estimate, which showed that the state’s annual unmet road needs totaled about $135 million.

The new report, generated by consultant Dye Management Group Inc., provides a wider look at the department’s needs beyond just road upkeep, WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told lawmakers Monday.

“The gap is bigger than $135 million, significantly,” Reiner said during the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee meeting.

Rather than focusing solely on surface road needs, the report discussed Monday considers every component of WYDOT’s budget, such as facilities upgrades and Wyoming Highway Patrol equipment.

Yet with about a third of Wyoming’s roads considered to be in substandard condition, the largest portion of the funding gap came from there. Dye President Rob Zilay told the committee that Wyoming’s road conditions are “deteriorating” as federal and state funding has failed to keep pace with WYDOT’s needs.

“If that funding is not available, WYDOT’s going to have to cut services, so closing rest areas, reducing snow and ice operations, et cetera, but also deciding on where to focus maintenance,” Zilay said. “These are some tough decisions that WYDOT needs to make, and it’s decisions they’ve already been making, but it’s only going to get more difficult as time goes on.”

Those tough decisions will depend partly on whether state lawmakers decide to approve any measures to raise revenue for WYDOT this spring.

A couple weeks ago, the Joint Revenue Committee advanced legislation that would increase the state’s fuel tax by nine cents – a proposal estimated to generate about $60 million that would help address some of WYDOT’s needs.

Earlier this year, the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee also advanced a bill setting up a road usage charge system, which would make people pay on a per-mile basis for how much they drive in Wyoming.

Regardless of whether those bills win approval, the report provided some indication of what residents might be willing to pay more for. Through interviews with a focus group, the consultant found that Wyomingites had a higher willingness to pay for smooth roads, clear pavement markings and improved overpasses. The lowest-rated aspects included increasing bike lanes, increasing digital message signs and improving guardrails.

“The results of the focus group, as well as our outreach, can be used to guide WYDOT as they prioritize,” Zilay said.

Zilay noted that the top priority for residents was also the area with the most unfunded need, with an annual funding gap of about $196 million for maintaining the state’s roads.

“[It’s] pretty easy to align the priority of WYDOT with what the expectations of Wyoming citizens are,” Zilay said.

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