Funding for I-80 discussed in Wyoming

| 10/9/2006

Wyoming lawmakers will discuss how the state should maintain Interstate 80 during the regular session that starts in January.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee decided to sponsor a bill that would establish a select panel to study how to maintain Wyoming’s 400 miles of the roadway.

The decision by lawmakers followed talks with the Wyoming Department of Transportation Oct. 2 that the state needed to develop a long-term maintenance plan for I-80 that is separate from plans for other roads and highways, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

The announcement follows on the heels of discussion by the panel on whether to borrow money from the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to pay for road and bridge work throughout the state. Secretary of State Joe Meyer said the trust fund could be refilled with federal mineral royalties.

Meyer said borrowing from the trust fund is legal and it should be mentioned as a possibility for addressing road repairs that become a bigger problem every day as construction costs rise with inflation. He also cited damage to roads by large trucks and other heavy equipment.

Truck traffic also was listed as a concern in discussions about how to maintain I-80.

The long-term maintenance plan for the highway could include adding a third lane in each direction, building alternate routes, diverting truck traffic to rail. Tolling also was mentioned for further study.

The interstate is expected to see increasing traffic that will cause more safety and maintenance concerns, officials said. Truck traffic alone on I-80 is growing at double the rate of cars, the Star-Tribune reported.

The interim panel voted to sponsor the select committee bill. Lawmakers also appeared to be open to the idea of borrowing from the trust fund to pay for transportation, and Sen. Gerald Geis, R-Worland, said he would be interested in pursuing legislation to make it happen.