Riverton chasing ‘once-in-a-career’ Bipartisan Infrastructure funding; Airport Road next

Riverton wants to improve Airport Road using money from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last fall.

Airport Road previously served as the state highway west of town, and it is one of the oldest in Riverton’s network, public works director Kyle Butterfield said, with pavement that is “aged” and “distressed” and an “alignment (that) would benefit from a wider profile.”

“It’s been a matter of discussion for several years,” he said.

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Local resident Cathy Cline expressed concern about Airport Road during a meeting in January, asking the council to “give substantial consideration to the unsafe driving conditions” there.

“The road is narrow, it has no shoulders, (and) you can barely see the yellow line on most of it,” she said. “With winter conditions it’s really treacherous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven up the road only to have a line of cars coming down the center straight at me, or how many near misses I’ve seen between cars and giant trucks.”

Airport Road serves an industrial area of the city, Butterfield said, and it provides access to the Wind River Job Corps Center and Central Wyoming Regional Airport, which has seen an increase in use in recent years.

“While I really love that we now have these incredible enplanements at the airport, that’s 15,000 cars making round trips up and down that hill, (plus) 125 Wind River Job Corps employees,” Cline said. “This is a gateway road that’s down in critically bad condition, (and) it’s just a matter of time until someone really gets hurt up there.”

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Pedestrian access

It’s “not very comfortable” for pedestrians to use Airport Road either, Butterfield said, so the city has included plans for a paved pedestrian pathway in its grant proposal.

The grant program in question – the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Program – prioritizes projects that provide “pedestrian opportunities,” he added.

The grant program typically requires a 20 percent match, Butterfield said, but projects associated with Tribal areas may not require a matching component. The program also prioritizes projects that involve “inter-community cooperation,” so Butterfield said “a partnership with Tribal entities (and) the county will really help this application.”

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Airport Road runs through city, county, and Tribal jurisdictions.

If the funding is approved, Butterfield said the city would have until fiscal year 2026 to use the money, so there would be “time to coordinate design and some of the other items, even budgets, (with) the other entities.”

Based on early estimates, Butterfield said the Airport Road project could cost up to $5 million.

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The city council gave Butterfield authority to apply for the grant during a meeting this week.

Going after grants

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a total of $550 billion in new investments nationwide, and Butterfield said “the city has been looking at opportunities to maximize its involvement” with the funding source.

To that end, city administrator Tony Tolstedt asked for permission to “go after that money” without seeking approval first from the city council, as is current practice.

“Right now is kind of an unprecedented time for grant programs and monies that are around,” Tolstedt said. “There are certain things that are once-in-a-career levels of funding in different areas.”

He said he will continue to inform the council about grant applications, even if they have already been submitted, and if objections arise, staff “can just pull that grant application right away.”

The council agreed with Tolstedt’s proposal.

“I think that’s OK with us,” Mayor Richard Gard said. “When we don’t like them, we’ll tell you.”

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