Cheyenne— As part of his $915-million supplemental budget request for the period through June 30, 2008, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has asked the Legislature to allocate $162 million for highway construction and repair. He called the request modest, given current construction costs, and noted that at a cost of $3 million per mile, the $162 million would pay for only 54 miles of new highway.
"Fortunately, a lot of this is going for resurfacing and other kinds of projects," he said.
A number of legislators immediately expressed concern about the plan to spend money on highways that is earmarked for the state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. If highways are a priority, said Senate President-elect John Schiffer (R-Kaycee), the state should pay for them directly from the general fund rather than dipping into money intended for savings.
And highways are indeed a priority, with the Wyoming Department of Transportation facing critical budget obstacles and a rapidly deteriorating highway system. WYDOT says it needs approximately $500 million in additional funding over the next two years to care for the state highway system, and while the $162 million will certainly help, it will only begin to address the shortfall.
Del McOmie, chief engineer for WYDOT, told the recent annual meeting of the Wyoming Highway Users Federation that the number of state highway projects in Wyoming dropped from 135 in 1998 to 78 in 2006 due to a lack of funding. And the reduction in work is pushing some contractors into other fields or out of Wyoming entirely. The average number of bids per project fell from 4.7 in 2000 to 2.7 in 2006.
Meanwhile, Wyoming continues to have the lowest gas tax in the region, 14 cents per gallon, compared to Montana's 27 cents, Nebraska's 26.1 cents, Utah's 24.5 cents, and Colorado's 22 cents.