ARRA Funds Accelerate Cody-Powell Corridor Improvements in Wyoming

Wed September 23, 2009 - West Edition
Rebecca Ragain

In mid-July, High Country Construction started work on a $10.2 million contract for the Wyoming Department of Transportation to widen 4 mi. (6.4 km) of U.S. 14A, between the towns of Cody and Powell, from two lanes to five.
In mid-July, High Country Construction started work on a $10.2 million contract for the Wyoming Department of Transportation to widen 4 mi. (6.4 km) of U.S. 14A, between the towns of Cody and Powell, from two lanes to five.



For the crews that work for High Country Construction in Lander, Wyo., there’s no doubt that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made an impact.

In mid-July, High Country Construction started work on a $10.2 million contract for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to widen 4 mi. (6.4 km) of U.S. 14A, between the towns of Cody and Powell, from two lanes to five.

“We were about out of work with one crew and I put that crew to work by being able to get this job,” said Chad Connell, vice president of High Country Construction. In addition, High Country has brought in five subcontractors for the job.

According to WYDOT spokesperson Cody Beers, the department has spent about $40 million in ARRA funding in northwest Wyoming alone.

“We feel really good about the amount of work that we’ve been able to spread around to contractors,” said Beers.

Competition for ARRA-funded projects has been fierce. Contractors based in neighboring states bid on many Wyoming projects; 34 percent of ARRA projects in Wyoming have gone to in-state contractors.

Beers’ district put 2010 completion dates on its 15 ARRA-funded projects to encourage small contractors to bid.

“A lot of contractors, like High Country, can only handle one or two projects like this a year… [the 2010 completion date] allowed these people to bid on them, knowing that they have a couple of years to get them done,” explained Beers.

In High Country’s case, the contractor takes on jobs such as mine reclamation, golf courses, and airports — mostly within the state of Wyoming — to the tune of $15 to $20 million per year.

With the U.S. 14A Cody-Powell project scheduled for completion next October, High Country’s crews are currently in full production. They’re relying heavily on scrapers to move fill on both sides of the existing road, which will stay in place until next year.

“A lot of our projects anymore aren’t set up to do a lot of scraper work,” said Beers. “But this is a fairly flat area and we’re moving a lot of rock from a pit site to the edges of the road, and scrapers are working well there.”

In addition to scrapers, High Country is using articulated dump trucks and excavators. A small excavator has been leased for this project; the rest of the equipment is part of the contractor’s Caterpillar-heavy fleet.

Crews are having to work around some utility poles still standing in the middle of the road. After design, the shovel-ready project had been shelved until at least next year. So when stimulus money allowed the project to move forward earlier than expected, “the utility contractors really had to hustle,” as Connell put it.

Another challenging aspect of the project is the installation of thousands of yards of 96-inch RCP pipe. High Country plans to finish the water line by winter, when the project’s focus will shift to working on a small bridge that crosses an irrigation canal.

Next summer’s work will include tearing up the original roadway and finishing the roadwork.

“We hope to start paving in May or June,” said Beers.

The improved highway is intended to better serve the many commuters who travel the 24 mi. between Cody and Powell — populations 8,000 and 6,000, respectively — for work, as well as summer traffic coming from Yellowstone National Park, 50 mi. west of Cody.

Traffic loads between Cody and Powell have “grown massively” in recent years, said Beers. At the eastern limits of Cody, for example, daily traffic increased from 4,500 to 6,500 in ten years. A significant portion of the traffic is related to agriculture, as trucks haul beans, beets and alfalfa from surrounding farms.

High Country’s current contract is part of a broader Cody-Powell corridor improvement plan that includes four similar projects finished over the past eight years, totaling 14 mi. of improved roadway. After High Country finishes its work, only two 3 mi. sections will remain to complete the plan.

Beers said: “We’re trying to finish this corridor, and we’ve maintained our commitment to doing just that. But it’s expensive.”