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WyDOT seeks county's help to finish 17 Mile Road

Jun 22, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Department of Transportation and others met with Fremont County Commissioners to discuss how to cover a $2.15 million shortfall on 17 Mile Road's final section rebuild.

"I'm really just here asking the commission to take a look at what you could do," said Shelby Carlson, the transportation department's District 5 engineer for the region that includes Fremont County.

The June 19 request encountered challenges from the commission, already facing its own fiscal issues concerning the county government's new budget.

"I'm not opposed to helping out, but that amount of money, considering our budget situation ... is not something we can take out of petty cash," commission chairman Doug Thompson said.

Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said there are "a lot of projects we're trying to accomplish with very little money."

Noting a $1.4 million spending deficit projected for the new budget, "we're going to be pretty hard-pressed the next two years to accomplish anything on our roads," Hickerson said.

Plans are continuing on finishing the overall improvement project on the county-owned 17 Mile Road with the nearly $19 million reconstruction of the final 8.3-mile section.

"The opportunity that we have now is to completely finish the project," Carlson told commissioners.

The Wind River Indian Reservation tribes and the state transportation department are each contributing around $8 million, prompting Carlson and others to seek commission financial assistance.

Considering the $2.15 million shortfall, "when you look at $18.9 million, it's really a small piece of the pie, and if we all work together we can get this together," Carlson said.

Other funding sources for the project are coming from the Indian Reservation Roads program contributing about $430,000 and the Wyoming tourism funds adding $85,000 for a Sand Creek Massacre Trail turnout.

"It's been a partnership to get this road built," Carlson said about the project that began with planning in 1996 with a memorandum of understanding between the state, county, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the reservation tribes.

Carlson noted the project has already included reconstruction of a 2.1-mile stretch of roadway and funding for an emergency bridge and later a crossing over the Little Wind River. Improvements to an area around Coolidge Canal have been covered as well, she said.

"That leaves the west section portion to be built," Carlson said.

The project is facing time constraints involving the use of the tribes' roughly $8.2 million federal grant through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Carlson said the project needs to obligate the TIGER funding by February. She emphasized the county can fund the project incrementally.

"This will be a three-year project so you can cash flow it over three years," she said.

A request is under way to the county government's high-dollar infrastructure funding program by Carlson with assistance from county transportation department superintendent Dave Pendleton.

"I think this is a long, drawn-out project I'd like to see come to completion," Pendleton told commissioners.

He estimated the cost savings to the county in terms of maintenance and other work required on 17 Mile Road to be upward of $150,000 annually.

The reconstruction will resolve problems with culverts that are "starting to sink because we've held out on replacing them because we know this project is out there," Pendleton said.

Commissioner Dennis Christensen noted the board could pay installments of roughly $700,000 annually over the next three years.

"Can we do that, obligate a future board to do so?" he asked.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese compared the funding situation to the multiyear Burma Road project.

A reason for the project's cost increases involve work on irrigation lines along 17 Mile Road.

"The big addition since that time has been the irrigation we weren't anticipating," Carlson said, referring to earlier planning efforts to secure funding.

Figures she provided to the commission showed irrigation work costing $4.8 million -- $3.4 million for a gravity-flow system and $1.4 million for a pressurized system, in addition to $1 million for a Northern Arapaho Utilities waterline.

Hickerson said the costs seemed high.

"On the irrigation reconstruction, that seems a lot," he said. "I'm concerned about that portion of it."

Pendleton said the irrigation work will improve road safety.

"Currently there are some open ditches alongside 17 Mile Road that have killed a lot of people. Those are going to be piped," he said.

Carlson also defended the irrigation costs.

"We are not paying for any improvements other than what's required to do the road," she said.

Thompson said the commission would respond to the request within a month.

"We would like to see certainly sooner rather than later how much you can commit," Carlson said. "We're committed to see that it gets finished."

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