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WYDOT provides update on road conditions, budget options

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 The Wyoming Stock Growers Association invited Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) Director, retired Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner, to provide an update during the general session of the 2020 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show on Aug. 25 in Rock Springs. Reiner was appointed to the position by Gov. Mark Gordon in March 2019. 

Current road conditions

Reiner reported WYDOT predicts statewide deterioration of highway conditions with current revenue projections. Highways tagged to be in good and excellent condition will decrease from 63 percent to 57 percent and highways tagged in poor condition will increase from 19 percent to 30 percent by the year 2038, according to WYDOT. 

National Transportation Research Nonprofit (TRiP) reported in July 47 percent of Wyoming’s bridges and 76 percent of Wyoming’s interstate bridges are greater than 50 years old. TRiP also reports road conditions cost Wyoming drivers an additional $587 in extra fuel and maintenance costs each year. 

“USA Today kicked out a report ranking Wyoming with the 10th worst roads in the nation, in terms of the percent of bad roads,” shared Reiner. “The trend is probably not what we would wish for as a state and for those of us who run up and down these roads.” 

Conditions connected to budget

“There are 6,733 miles of road. An overlay costs around $1 million each mile, where completely replacing the road costs between $1 million and $4 million,” explained Reiner. “We can slap a patch on top of the road, but unless we deal with subgrade issues over the years, it is just a Band-Aid.”

“If roads aren’t maintained, they will get worse,” Reiner said. “If we don’t spend $1 today, it will cost us a lot more in the future.” 

“Chronically, we are $135 million short every year for maintaining assets in their current condition,” said Reiner. “I personally think this number is low.” 

“The state took WYDOT off the General Fund,” Reiner shared. “That, and a reduction in federal mineral royalties as well as reduced revenue and inflation were major impacts to the WYDOT budget.” 

On average, the federal government shares half of road maintenance costs. Reiner explained in Wyoming, the federal government shares closer to 75 percent of the maintenance costs while the state contributes around 25 percent. 

Short budget considerations

“The focus for us has been what we can do to help at the state level,” said Reiner. “I am often asked why WYDOT doesn’t just make more budget cuts.” 

“The reality is, we have reduced our staff by 10 percent in the last 10 years. We are authorized to have 2,055 employees for 2020, and we currently have 1910 employees,” Reiner explained. “We closed some rest areas as well – some people think it was a good decision and some disagree.”

“Currently, WYDOT has delayed some capacity and mobility improvements because we don’t have enough money to maintain the assets we have,” said Reiner. “I don’t think we should be adding anything new.” 

Projects under capacity and mobility improvements include lane expansions in Sheridan and Cheyenne, as well as additional passing lanes on Highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette and on Highway 20-26 between Casper and Shoshoni. All projects Reiner believes the state needs. 

“We are trying to be very frugal and wise with the resources we have,” added Reiner.  

Future budget options

“As a state, we will raise around $175 million in fuel taxes,” Reiner shared. “WYDOT will keep around $114 million, while the rest will go to counties and municipalities according to state statute.” 

Reiner explained the efficacy of fuel tax to maintain roads is diminishing as the addition of electric vehicles and vehicles with increased fuel mileage fill roads. 

“As we look into the future, we cannot rely on fuel tax,” said Reiner. “One option is to treat our roads as a utility. If we drive on it, we pay for it.” 

“Road User Charges (RUC) might be what it looks like to fund transportation systems in the future,” Reiner explained. 

Since 2000, the average fuel mileage has increased by 25 percent in cars and 14 percent in pickups, according to WYDOT. 

“There is the option for adjusted RUC rates. We know heavy trucks cause more road damage than cars,” shared Reiner. “This is an option we have to look at and discuss in order to maintain our roads.” 

Averi Hales is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

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