Wyoming DOT shifts road construction philosophy due to federal funding uncertainty

A lack of federal funding combined with uncertainty over whether Congress will again patch the Highway Trust Fund, due to expire at the end of July, has forced the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to shift its philosophy from rebuild to repave.

Del McOmie, chief engineer with WYDOT, told TI News Daily, “If you perform timely road maintenance prior to replacement you save $4 to $8 a mile when it’s time to reconstruct. With the money we have today, we can’t make those timely repairs.”

A pavement overlay will last about 10 years, McOmie said. “An asphalt reconstruct lasts 20 years, a full concrete rebuild will last 30 years.”

McOmie said due to the lack of funding his department had to postpone a multi-million dollar project planned for I-80, an interstate that travels east-west through the state. “If we don’t get (federal) funding we’ll have to postpone it until next season,” he said.

A total of $28 million in projects have been postponed and McOmie said if Congress fails to act those projects will be pulled from letting out bids. “Even if Congress patches the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the year we still may have to hold some projects.”

There is, however, one bright spot, McOmie said. In 2013, the state raised its gas tax by 10 cents a gallon. McOmie said the increase has generated approximately $264.5 million. That has allowed the state to add 14 additional projects to its transportation plan.

McOmie said the most challenging aspect of not knowing when or if funds will be available is long-term planning. “If a six-year bill was passed, that would allow us to look out into the future. With short-term patches you don’t know what’s coming down the road.”

McOmie said for now he’s improvising. “We’ve postponed and delayed projects. We have more scheduled for July but may have to pull those, too, if Congress doesn’t come up with a long-term solution. If Congress patches the fund again we’ll plan for the length of the patch, accept the constraints that go with it, and adjust our budgets accordingly.”

Unable to pass long-term funding legislation, Congress had patched the Highway Trust Fund approximately 23 times since 1993, adding $50 billion to the national debt.