WYDOT Needs More than Gov.’s $162M for Highway Funding

Wed December 27, 2006 - West Edition
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP ) An official of the Wyoming Department of Transportation said Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s suggestion to give the department an additional $162 million in highway funding for the coming fiscal year is significant, but still not enough.

Del McOmie, chief engineer at the agency, said the extra money that Freudenthal has proposed would help the department with its backlog of projects. But McOmie said the state still needs a comprehensive plan to increase highway funding over the long term.

“A steady funding steam is critical,” McOmie said. He said the lack of steady funding is pushing some contractors to leave the business and provides them with little incentive to invest in expensive road-building equipment.

State highway officials estimated they need $500 million over the next two years to meet the state’s transportation needs. Officials said the department faces a funding crisis as a result of massive inflation of construction costs combined with federal cutbacks and other factors.

Freudenthal proposed to take $180 million that the legislature in early 2006 earmarked for permanent savings and spend it instead on improvements to highways and airports in the state. But some senior lawmakers said they have concerns with that plan.

Freudenthal said he would prefer to change the state’s funding formula to put more money automatically from the state’s severance tax receipts directly into highway funding, but said the legislature has repeatedly rejected such proposals.

Rep. Tom Walsh, R-Casper, a member of the House Revenue Committee, is sponsoring a bill in the legislative session that starts in January 2007 that would direct an additional $220 million from the states’ mineral revenues to transportation needs.

“It’s going to be met with a tremendous amount of resistance,” Walsh said of his proposal. However, he said that if successful, his bill would lead to continued increases in future highway spending.

Meanwhile, the House Revenue Committee is considering two bills to increase Wyoming’s fuel tax. One bill would increase the tax by 2 cents a gallon in 2007 and by 3 cents a gallon in 2008 while the other would impose a full 5 cents a gallon increase in 2007.

Currently, Wyoming’s fuel tax is 14 cents a gallon. Montana charges 27 cents and Utah charges 24.5 cents.

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