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Bar Nunn traffic

Cars head north on Salt Creek Highway in Bar Nunn in August 2012.

Wyoming officials gave preliminary approval to $3 million in state funding Thursday morning for an Interstate 25 interchange in Bar Nunn. The Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board unanimously approved $1 million in a Wyoming Community Readiness Grant. Additionally, the SLIB is authorizing Natrona County officials to work with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to reprioritize other highway projects in the area to free up an additional $2 million for the interchange. Supporters of the Westwinds Road project said all $3 million in state money was needed for construction to begin next spring, before costs inflate beyond initial estimates.

SLIB is composed of Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. The board also approved $500,000 for Casper’s David Street Station public plaza. The money will be used to construct a 4,000-square-foot building for maintenance, storage, equipment, guest services and restrooms, according to a statement from the Wyoming Business Council.

Members of the Business Council last month recommended that SLIB fund the David Street Station project.

They recommended against the state chipping in money for the two Bar Nunn freeway entrance and exit ramps. Members called the project worthy. But under current financial conditions they said they could not recommend it, considering it wasn’t designated as a high priority by the Wyoming Transportation Commission.

Bar Nunn Mayor Patrick Ford said $9 million of the project’s estimated $12 million costs had been lined up. Bar Nunn, Natrona County and local governments that are part of the Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization had committed money.

Only $3 million was unfunded, and Ford is grateful the state was able to come through, he said.

“This project was really make-it-or-break-it for Bar Nunn, as far as the future of development and growth, the safety aspect — everything,” Ford said after SLIB approved the funding. “This was really our last best chance to get this project to move forward.”

Drivers reach the town primarily through Salt Creek Highway. They can also exit I-25 at Howard Street, which is in unincorporated Natrona County, and backtrack south into town.

Salt Creek Highway can get busy with traffic and bottlenecked when there are emergencies, such as wildfires. The highway lacks an emergency lane for ambulances to bypass passenger cars. On a good day, travel time to reach the town is around 10 minutes, longer than ambulance services prefer.

Bar Nunn has been one of the state’s fastest-growing communities, bursting from 900 residents in 2000 to 2,800 in 2015.

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Ford and other project supporters argued before SLIB that future development and population growth hinges on the project.

Furthermore, there is no direct freeway access to Casper/Natrona County International Airport, which is used by travelers across central Wyoming.

But there is a long-term plan to build a connector between the Westwinds Road interchange and the airport and a surrounding industrial area.

Bar Nunn’s original request was for all $3 million to come from a state grant. SLIB funded the project with the mix of the grant and WYDOT money through reprioritizing Natrona County projects. The state is in a financial crunch due to lower energy revenues.

If money flows as planned, contractors can bid to work on the project in the fall, ahead of the spring groundbreaking, Ford said.

“Certainly we appreciate the way they put that together to make sure Bar Nunn could get the funding to move forward with our project,” he said.

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock covers politics and the Wyoming Legislature.

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