The Wyoming Department of Transportation is currently working on its master plan that would cover the department's vision for the next five years. But in the meantime, WYDOT has released its list of the projects it wants to tackle in 2020. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with WYDOT director Luke Reiner about how the State Transportation Improvement Plan shows how the department is struggling with a lack of funding.
Luke Reiner: Currently, the Department of Transportation is short in terms of funding. And it's short, what we reported to the legislature, is about $135 million short of maintaining assets in the current condition. So we went several years ago, based on really our shortfalls in funding, to where we'll call it a focus on asset preservation. And really, the theory there is that it's really important for us to try to care for the assets that we have. And so when you look at the bid letting and the bid letting schedule that it was released, really what jumps in my mind to the forefront, is the fact that most, almost all, of the projects that you see in there are projects that maintain our roads and work to keep them in good repair.
What you don't see is improvements to roads in terms of capacity or mobility. And that's just because we don't have the money, and we've chosen to focus on preserving what we do have. Now there are some a few projects that fit into the capacity level. And those are really predominantly on there because of safety issues. For example, there are some lights they're going into Riverton. The other one that might out to you is there's a five lane widening of Highway 59 in the area of Wright. And again, that's a safety issue with lots of mine traffic coming through there.
Catherine Wheeler: Funding for WYDOT keeps coming up in talks with the legislature. Have you all been talking with legislators about ways the department can get more long-term funding?
LR: The Joint Revenue Committee, and actually came up with the idea and passed out of committee, an increase of three cents to our state fuel tax. And so that would that would help in terms of making a dent in the unfunded list. So the the three cent increase in the fuel tax, that is certainly would raise about $20 million for this state, about $13 million of that comes to the Department of Transportation, the other seven, you know, by statute, and it's a good thing goes to cities, communities and county to help fund some of their transportation needs. And so all of those elements, you know, share the revenue that comes in from an increase in fuel tax.
So that's that's one issue that's been talked about, and that certainly originated from the Joint Revenue Committee and we think that that's a good idea and would be helpful. The Transportation Committee itself asked us to come up with what are some other concepts that we could use to generate revenue. We have not had that discussion yet with Joint Transportation, we will in the near future, and then we'll see what type of guidance they give us in terms of, you know, what should we think about developing. Extra funding would be very helpful in terms of making a dent in our unfunded requirements in terms of maintaining our assets. It will disappear, at this point, it will go to unfunded needs, which keeps us in an asset preservation mode. The decision of where to find money certainly is a legislative decision, and they are certainly working on it.
CW: I know Sen. Barrasso has been working at the federal to get more funding for states for their highway projects and maintaining their roads, and that a proposed bill passed out of his committee unanimously. And I'm wondering what you think about that bill and what the department's reaction is to those efforts.
LR: Our hats off to Sen. Barrasso and his co-chairman, for really taken the lead in a nice, bipartisan bill. The bill is good. It's far ranging. It certainly funds ground transportation systems in the United States for about the next five years. In fact, it's all transportation systems for the next five years. And it's more money than has been in those bills before. The effect on for us in the state of Wyoming would be about a two percent increase in the first year, and then about a one percent increase in the following years.
So in terms of real dollars, right now, we get about $285 million a year from the federal government. So if the FAST Act goes through, or the FAST Act redone goes through, than what you would see is, you know, low $300 millions per year, which would again, be a help for us. [It] would not change at this point our priority, we will still focus on preserving our assets. But certainly, that that money would go to good use here in the state of Wyoming.
CW: Luke Reiner is the director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Thanks, Luke, for taking the time to speak with me.
LR: Thank you, ma'am. Have a great rest of the day.