By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
It’s kind of like making a list for Santa Claus at Christmas.
At least, that’s the way it sounds when Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner starts listing the large-scale projects that the state is pitching to be paid for with President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
“The guidance we received, in terms of this infrastructure bill, was ‘Don’t send us your maintenance projects – think outside the box, send us some bigger, more high dollar items that you would like to build if you had the opportunity,’” he said.
It’s an exciting list, by anyone’s standards. Some of the more imaginative plans involve tunnels through Teton Pass and through the Wind River Canyon.
And maybe a rerouting of a particularly treacherous section of I-80 near Elk Mountain.
“What that does for the nation, is it provides the opportunity for that for I-80 to be open a lot more on any given year, because that’s the area we always closed,” Reiner explained. “So you reroute it along Highway 30.”
And that tunnel through Teton Pass? It’s not as outlandish as it may seem.
“There was actually a study that was done, I want to say it was in 2008, to look at the feasibility of that,” Reiner said. “I think there’s 1.3 miles, it starts halfway up the mountain, wherever that is, and it goes right through.”
And there are many benefits to such a tunnel, according to Reiner.
“One, it avoids the avalanche-prone area, and that would help really make that road more passable,” he said, pointing out that in a part of the state where the cost of living is outlandish for workers, that stretch of highway plays an important role in the economy by getting workers to and from their jobs.
“It’s not lost on us that that has become a major commuter route for employees who work in Jackson and live in Idaho,” Reiner said. “The average daily traffic on that road is one of the highest in our state.”
Other projects on the “wish list” include:
I-80 electric vehicle charging stations;
Statewide airport Improvements;
Maintenance for the Beartooth Highway in northwest Wyoming;
Critical highway and bridge repairs for Interstate 80, along with additional truck climbing lanes and truck parking;
Wildlife connectivity and hazard mitigation projects, and
Increasing the capacity on Wyoming Highwy 22 outside of grand Teton National Park.
Reiner pointed out the big projects on the department’s “wish list” aren’t what the department would normally prioritize.
“You know, our focus in the state, based on budget, is maintaining the assets we currently have,” Reiner said.
He added the proposed infrastructure plan would not make money available for necessary maintenance projects that are currently backlogged because of the state’s current budget deficit.
But the “wish list” may actually be moot if the U.S. House and Senate can’t agree on the infrastructure bill itself.
“Remember, this bill has not passed through Congress,” Reiner said. “The Republicans have a counter-proposal for significantly less money. And we don’t know what the final outcome will be.”
So in the meantime, Reiner says that the department will continue to focus on what the state’s current needs are.
“Our focus remains on maintaining the assets we have with available resources,” he said.