WYDOT Wants Legislation To Address Funding And Safety

Oct 27, 2020

Credit WYDOT

The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is looking at new options to generate revenue as the department faces a $135 million revenue shortfall.

The department is mainly funded by federal dollars and a fuel tax, but WYDOT Director Luke Reiner said the tax has its limitations.

After lawmakers on the Joint Transportation Committee asked the department to study possible revenue options, officials have honed in on one option: a road user charge.

The road user charge requires people to pay for the miles they drive on roads in the state, treating it like a utility.

WYDOT Director Luke Reiner said after presenting a draft bill to lawmakers, the department will bring some new changes at a meeting next month.

"[We] probably have 6 or 7 significant changes to the proposal to make it better. Some of those comments from the legislators themselves, some of them comments from our stakeholders," he said.

Reiner said the department is still working out aspects like options to meter, the charge itself, and privacy concerns.

Even if legislators pass the bill, he said it'll take time to get the program up and running.

"What happens in that timeline, there's a year to work rules and reg. And another year we're proposing to do proof of principle. And we'd see that as the time to decide how we want this to look in this state," Reiner said.

Two other states, Utah and Nevada, are currently working on pilot programs of a road user charge.

Additionally, the committee is once again considering bringing up a primary seatbelt law in the upcoming general session.

Wyoming Highway Patrol's Col. Kebin Haller said the lack of seatbelt usage is contributing to a significant number of deaths of Wyoming residents. He said each year WYDOT conducts a seatbelt use study and the numbers are not trending in the right direction.

"In the past several years, that number continues to go down. For 2019, that number was estimated at 78 percent. Prior to that we'd been up to 86 percent," Haller said.

In 2019, there were 147 fatalities in the state, a statistic Haller called a "bad year." Of those fatalities, 58 were unrestrained. But Haller has broken the numbers down further.

"So if you take a look at those who were not buckled up, we begin to see that 62 percent of that 58 were Wyoming citizens, so two-thirds of that number," he said.

Haller said he's heard a consistent theme when it comes to cases against a primary seatbelt law.

"Concerns that have been relayed are specific to what I would term as government overreach, that the state, the government shouldn't have the authority to tell me whether or not I should buckle up," he said.

Haller said while lawmakers have brought the issue forward at least 12 times over the years he said he remains optimistic.

"I do believe people want to do the right thing and protect one another. And I don't think it takes much time to buckle up to be safe. Having said that, I understand there could be a whole opposite sentiment, and regardless of that I have to believe in the process," he said.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.