Wyoming Department of Transportation director Darin Westby wants to start working with state lawmakers this year to develop a long-term funding plan for the state’s highway system.
Currently, the federal government provides more than 70 percent of funding for roads in the state, Westby told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee during a meeting this month.
If that federal funding were to decrease in the future – “whether it’s by your choice, my choice, or the fed’s choice” – Westby said Wyoming will be “in a deep hurt if we don’t start thinking about long-term stabilization of our stateside funding.”
“We need to shore that up,” Westby said. “If we don’t start thinking now about how we’re going to stabilize ourselves, when and if that federal dollar starts to decrease, we’re going to find ourselves in a world of trouble.”
Road funding from the state has “been pretty flat over the years,” Westby said, pointing to a 2019 study that showed WYDOT was “underfunded by $400 million per year” at that time.
Road conditions have deteriorated since then, Westby said, with 33 percent of paved highways in the state rated in “good condition” in 2019, compared to 24 percent in 2021.
“I don’t know that we have the luxury of inaction right now,” Westby said. “Inaction is going to lead us down a bad road.”
JAC co-chair Wyoming Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, suggested Westby bring the topic back to the committee for consideration after the upcoming legislative session.
“Come and talk to us about it,” Nicholas said. “This is the committee that will have the most ability to actually move the needle on that.”
Westby said he would likely involve the JAC as well as the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee and the Joint Revenue Committee.
“I want to make sure everybody’s aware of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
JAC co-chair Wyoming Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, agreed that it would be “prudent” for Westby to “hit all three committees.”
“This issue affects every citizen of this state, and it’s important that they understand what’s happening and why,” she said. “It’s going to require significant work, (and) it will likely take continued years of this effort to educate the public and to obtain the political will.”