WEATHER FROM OUR SPONSORS
SHERIDAN — Driving down the street, flying in a plane, turning on a faucet — daily tasks tie into the bigger picture of infrastructure.
Infrastructure funding affects everyone and makes up a large portion of government budgets.
With the next fiscal year’s budgets starting to take shape, the effects of changes to those budgets — both locally and nationally — could impact the daily lives of local residents.
While President Donald Trump hasn’t released a list of specific projects, he has pledged to seek $1 trillion in public and private funds to improve America’s infrastructure and create jobs.
The Associated Press reported that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said the administration wants to “unleash the potential” of private sector investors in highways and other projects.
America’s infrastructure received a “D+” grade on the most recent report card from The American Society of Civil Engineers. The low grade translates to 9.1 percent of the nation’s bridges being structurally deficient in 2016. It also means congestion at airports, an estimated 240,000 water main breaks occurring in America each year and a 7 percent increase in traffic fatalities from 2014 to 2015, according to the infrastructure report card.
A county approach
Despite negative national infrastructure reports, Sheridan County finds itself sitting fairly stable with infrastructure projects and funding for them.
“As a whole, I think we’re sitting quite well,” said Renee Obermueller, Sheridan County’s administrative director.
Obermueller said the county took advantage of the 1989-established Capital Facilities Tax this year as well as past monies from the coalbed methane surge to update and maintain infrastructure in the county.
“(The Capital Facilities) Tax is the only way that we maintain our county roads, and that’s the only thing it’s used for — that and bridges,” Obermueller said. “Without that, we would probably be in dire straits, to put it bluntly.”
Sheridan County maintains a total of 540.6 miles of roads. Of those 540.6 miles, 26.6 are paved, 440 miles are gravel and 74 are dirt.
The county caught up on 25 years’ worth of projects with additional revenues streaming in from coalbed methane.
“We saw increased revenues and we were able to catch up on a lot of the infrastructure needs with our facilities through the extra funding that was coming in,” Obermueller said.
City focuses on interchange
The city used the additional revenues from coalbed methane to catch up with reconstruction projects and replace needed equipment.
“Replacing that equipment with newer equipment, more efficient equipment, more advanced equipment, that’s given us a better edge to stay up on things,” said Nic Bateson, the city of Sheridan’s public works director, using snow plow equipment as a prime example of time-saving upgrades for the municipality.
The city of Sheridan maintains streets and storm systems with sales and use tax revenues that feed into the general fund.
“If our sales and use taxes are impacted, as well as the direct distribution from the state…those are the things that can affect the revenue that comes from the general fund, and then that affects how much we can put into maintaining the streets and our storm (drains),” Bateson said.
The city maintains water and sewer infrastructure through user fees. Bateson said funding from the state through programs like the State Revolving Loan Fund help keep rates low compared to other communities in the state, but principal forgiveness monies decreased from past years.
Much of the city’s funds will go toward the North Sheridan Interchange project rather than smaller projects going forward.
“That’s taken a lot of our funding resources for the next couple years,” Bateson said of the interchange. “That’s why there’s not maybe as many neighborhood projects planned out for the next couple of years.”
The Wyoming Department of Transportation shows eight current projects as of December 2016, six of which the department plans to complete by the end of 2017. The North Sheridan Interchange project, which got underway last year, is expected to be completed by 2019.
Fifty percent of WYDOT’s budget comes from the federal government. WYDOT’s Chief Engineer Gregg Fredrick said the department does not foresee impacts to the surface transportation program with the Trump administration’s budget proposal, but may see effects on the aviation side.
“There is a proposal in the current budget that reduces funding for federally-funded air enhancement services,” Fredrick said, noting that future impacts are still being worked out.
Fredrick said construction will not be affected, based on what he’s reviewed of the budget so far, but the Essential Air Service Program through the U.S. Department of Transportation might see cuts. The EAS subsidizes two Wyoming airports – Cody and Laramie.
In addition, in recent years the Wyoming Legislature has made changes to how WYDOT and its Aeronautics Division will be funded. The changes could affect how much funding airports receive around the state. John Stopka, Sheridan County’s airport manager, said this year won’t see many changes, as the budget is already cut for the rest of this biennium. Next year is a budget year, though, and Stopka said nobody really knows what that will look like going forward.
“We don’t expect it to get any better, but we hope it won’t get worse,” Stopka said.