By Hannah Wiest
The Sheridan Press
SHERIDAN — Facing federal funding shortfalls, including an unsustainable federal highway trust fund, the Wyoming Department of Transportation discussed with representatives from the city, county and state this week the idea that it will continue to transition from a transportation improvement program to a pavement preservation program.
“What’s driving that is our inability to keep up with the needed construction projects to keep our roads at the current condition they’re in. So our roads are declining in condition,” WYDOT District 4 Engineer Mark Gillett said. “Given the fact that we aren’t able to keep up, the next question to WYDOT is, ‘Can we do something to mitigate that or lessen that impact?’”
District 4 encompasses Burgess Junction, Sheridan, Buffalo, Gillette, Sundance, Newcastle and areas in between.
On Monday, Mayor Dave Kinskey, Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, city staff and councilors, county commissioners and staff and WYDOT engineers and staff for northeast Wyoming reviewed proposed WYDOT projects on area highways, bridges, interstates and other state-owned roads like Coffeen Avenue through the year 2020.
Meeting attendees also discussed various facets of the overall WYDOT budget, including funds made available to cities, towns and counties from the state transportation department’s budget and how the decline in funds will impact WYDOT projects.
WYDOT Public Relations Specialist Ronda Holwell said the annual meeting to discuss the State Transportation Improvement Plan allows project coordination to ensure construction efforts by various government entities don’t conflict with each other. For example, if WYDOT needs to close Main Street, the city will want to make sure it is not doing construction on Gould or Brooks streets, which would be used as detours.
The federal highway trust fund was at $1.6 billion at the start of fiscal year 2014 in October of 2013 but is expected to rapidly decline below $0 by September of this year, according to a trust fund ticker found on the U.S. Department of Transportation website. This fund is what is used to channel money to states and local governments.
Add to that the fact that the two-year federal highway bill, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21, expires Oct. 1, and transportation departments across the nation could face significant shortfalls. Gillett said local projects to be let out in August and September could be impacted if more money is not appropriated.
However, when Kinskey asked if money would be pulled from local funding programs that help pay for pathways and local street maintenance and enhancement, Gillett said he wasn’t sure. He said he didn’t anticipate a dramatic decrease in local funding, but that it was impossible to know.
Gillett added that it is likely continuing resolutions will be used to sustain the federal highway budget but said Wyoming is trying to prepare for the shortfalls by focusing less on highway improvements and more on road maintenance.
“We used a very robust and complicated asset management computerized program to determine how much of our funding should be shifted from an improvement program, which means reconstruction, added lanes, wider roads type stuff, to just surfacing, primarily, and maintenance type projects like crack sealing, those kind of smaller projects,” Gillett said. “We found, through our asset management program, that if we shifted some of the money from the large reconstruction type projects into more of our maintenance type projects that it flattens that decline curve out. It’s still below keeping it (the roads) to current condition, but it’s not declining as fast.”
A budget presentation for this fiscal year made by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that every dollar not spent on timely preventative maintenance requires $4 to $8 to be spent a few years later for complete reconstruction.
Gillett also discussed the fuel tax for Wyoming and proposed projects that will use the 10-cent increase in fuel tax approved by the 2013 Wyoming Legislature. There is one fuel tax project planned for Sheridan County: pavement milling and overlay of eight miles of state Highway 335, which leads to Big Horn, in 2016.
He noted that an estimated $183 million in fuel tax revenue is expected to be allocated to cities, counties, state parks and WYDOT this fiscal year, which is comprised of 23 cents per gallon of the fuel tax allocated to state and local governments. The last penny of the 24-cent total fuel tax, a total of $12 million each year, goes to mitigate leaky underground storage tanks. Gillett emphasized that more than half of the fuel tax collected in Wyoming comes from non-residents. Wyoming residents contribute approximately 47.5 percent to the fuel tax total.
Proposed WYDOT projects
Here is the current list of proposed WYDOT projects in Sheridan County from 2014-2016:
• Mill and overlay on I-90 Sheridan Marginal from mile post 20-28
• Bridge replacement, street realignment and bike path on Lewis Street in Sheridan
• Mill and overlay on I-90 from Ranchester to Sheridan, mile post 10-14.5
• Slide repair on U.S. Highway 14 East, Sheridan to Ucross, at mile post 13
• Little Goose Bridge rehabilitation on Maverick Lane
• Slide repair on U.S. 14 East, Sheridan to Ucross, at mile post 15.4
• Landslide remediation on I-90 from Sheridan to Buffalo, at mile post 34.3
• Reconstruction of Fifth Street in Sheridan from mile post 1.5-2.5
• Reconstruction and relocation of the North Sheridan Interchange. Also reconstruction of North Main Street from Fort Road to McDonald’s.
• Add bike path underpass at Fifth Street and Big Goose Creek
• Widen and overlay state highway 193 from the Piney Creek interchange to Story from mile post 98-104