WYDOT official: Rough road ahead for Wyoming highway maintenance

2011-07-01T03:00:00Z WYDOT official: Rough road ahead for Wyoming highway maintenance

By TOM MORTON

Star-Tribune staff writer

Casper Star-Tribune Online

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but good intentions won’t pave the roads through Wyoming.

Money will pave the state’s roads, or else they will go to hell for decades without a substantial increase in funding, the district engineer for the central Wyoming division of the Department of Transportation said.

“Our system is definitely deteriorating,” Lowell Fleenor said. “At current funding levels, there is no way the system will not deteriorate.”

Fleenor gave this grim report to mostly WYDOT employees at the annual meeting about the State Transportation Improvement Program’s six-year plan held Wednesday in Casper.

WYDOT needs about $430 million a year to maintain the state and federal roads under its authority, and it would need another

$220 million to improve roads for safety and better mobility, he said.

But the department’s current level of funding stands at $283 million, and Fleenor estimated that amount will decline to about $200 million a year beginning in 2013.

The lack of action on a federal highway bill leaves in doubt some funding projections for the interstates and U.S. highways that cross Wyoming, Fleenor said.

WYDOT receives a significant portion of its road-maintenance funding from the state’s fuel tax.

Wyoming’s fuel tax — 14 cents a gallon for gasoline, gasohol and diesel — remains the lowest in the Rocky Mountain region, he said. WYDOT receives about 66 percent of the fuel tax revenues, with the rest going to counties, cities and state parks.

The 14-cent tax rate, among other issues, has forced a change in WYDOT’s entire strategy, he said.

“Due to funding constraints, WYDOT is moving from a transportation improvement program to a pavement preservation program,” Fleenor said.

The pavement preservation strategy means no new rest stops or more than basic repairs for many rural roads, he said.

WYDOT will concentrate on maintaining good roads, which means less money will be spent to repair or replace the bad ones, he said. “Over the next 20 years, this strategy should reduce the decline in Wyoming’s overall road condition, but ‘poor roads’ may get worse.”

Downhill

WYDOT classifies roads as excellent, good, fair or poor. Poor roads are close to failure, which happens when the road base is decayed to the point that it is within days or weeks of losing load-bearing strength, he said. That in turn causes accidents and the need for total reconstruction.

If Fleenor’s projections hold true, the future is on a poorly paved downhill slope.

Currently, WYDOT classifies about 55 percent of Wyoming roads as excellent or good, he said.

Unless funding improves, the percentage of excellent or good roads will decline to 45 percent in 2015, 35 percent in 2020 and 18 percent in 2030.

Maintaining those roads will cost exponentially more, too, Fleenor said.

One dollar spent to maintain a road in excellent to good condition will cost between $4 and $8 for that same maintenance if the deterioration slips to fair or poor condition.

And what does a dollar buy in road work?

Not much.

While costs of materials and labor have stabilized since their rapid rise over the past decade, road repair and reconstruction is still expensive on a per-mile basis:

n 2-lane thin overlay: $200,000-$400,000

n 4-lane resurface:

$1.3 million-$2.75 million

n 2-lane asphalt reconstruction: $1.25 million-

$2.75 million

n 4-lane concrete reconstruction: $4 million-

$5.25 million

Fleenor outlined how WYDOT cares for three groups of roads with the current $283 million budget:

$41.1 million for 914 miles of interstate highways I-25, I-80 and I-90.

$140.6 million for 2,042 miles of U.S. Highways such as U.S. 26 from Torrington through Casper to Idaho.

$101.9 million for the 4,721 miles of primary and secondary Wyoming highways.

The first two categories receive federal funding. Wyoming highways do not, Fleenor said.

“This is the most difficult part of the system we have to master,” he said. “This is very much the problem child.”

Reach Tom Morton at 307-266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com. You can read his blog at trib.com and follow him on Twitter at GTMorton.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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