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Fuel taxes pale in light of future electric travel

in News/Transportation
Gas Tax
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Fuel taxes alone can’t keep pace with the cost of highway maintenance in a future with electric vehicles and fuel-efficient engines, Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said. 

“The problem with the current fuel tax is it’s not sustainable,” Pappas said. “We’re changing our habits in the U.S. We’ve got new urban models, telecommuting, people are staying home, and many people don’t even own cars.”

While most of these challenges are hitting metropolitan areas the heaviest, Pappas said Wyoming can’t rely on rural insulation forever. 

“We may be working more remotely in the future than we currently do,” he explained. “Also, there’s a growing number of hybrid vehicles, and a number of purely electric vehicles as well.”

Fuel taxes could be in the spotlight during the 2020 Legislative Session as legislators scramble to close the growing funding gap in Wyoming Department of Transportation’s road maintenance budget.

A member of the Wyoming Legislature’s Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Joint Committee, Pappas recently voted against an Interstate 80 toll road proposal, because he said he’s not sure a toll road could close the gap by itself.

“There’s a bunch of ways to skin a cat,” he said. “I don’t think there is a singular option that can fix the state’s highway situation. I think the answer will be multi-faceted.”

To that end, Pappas is drafting a bill to create a task force which will look at several revenue options for highway construction and maintenance. The bill draft is slated for presentation to his committee in October.  

Tax at the rack

Describing the state’s fuel tax as complex is somewhat of an understatement, said Wayne Hassinger, the WYDOT Fuel Tax Administration program manager. 

“There are no straight lines when it comes to fuel tax,” Hassinger explained. “When we hire a new employee, they go through 12-18 months of training to administer the fuel tax.”

Wyoming charges distributors, suppliers and importers fuel tax at the rack, the physical location fuel exits the terminal or refinery.

“A terminal is a location where multiple suppliers store their fuel,” said Kim Peters, the WYDOT Fuel Tax Program supervisor.

From the rack, fuel is loaded into semi-trucks and rail cars before being shipping to locations such as gas stations and bulk storage facilities.

“We impose the tax when it crosses the rack, but it’s a tax on the ultimate user,” Hassinger explained. “When you buy gas, you pay the tax, but it’s already been paid up the line. So somebody in that line is getting reimbursed when you pay it at the pump.”

In 2013, Wyoming raised both the gas and diesel tax from 14 cents to 24 cents a gallon, Hassinger said. Prior to that, the state had not raised the fuel tax since the late ’90s, he added.

While all gas and diesel is taxed at the rack, the point at which the end user refunds the supplier determines how the money is distributed throughout the state.

When the suppliers submit their tax returns, they identify where the taxed fuel was destined.

“There’s a (tax) distribution model for gas and a different distribution model for diesel,” Hassinger said.

If the fuel is gas and destined for a city, the city will get 15 percent of the tax collected. For diesel, cities’ collect 5 percent of tax collected within city limits.

If the fuel is sold outside city limits, the county receives a portion of the tax collected. Counties receive about 13 percent of taxes collected on gas and 20 percent of diesel taxes.

The remaining tax collected is earmarked for several accounts, with the primary being WYDOT’s highway fund, which is used for highway construction and maintenance, Hassinger explained. WYDOT can only spend fuel tax monies on road construction and maintenance, but he said counties and cities are permitted to use the revenue as they see fit.

The highway fund receives about 57 percent of tax collected for gas sales and 75 percent of diesel tax.

During fiscal year 2018, Wyoming collected about $83.3 million for gas taxes and about $84.5 million for diesel taxes. In late calendar year 2018, WYDOT reported to the Legislature about $135 million in unfunded operating expenses, including more than $72 million in construction and maintenance.

User fees

As the future of travel evolves, Pappas said the state’s methods of funding infrastructure need to keep pace. 

“America is really falling in love with the electric vehicle,” he said. “Experts predict 55 percent of all new car sales in the U.S. will electric by 2040.”

Hassinger said Wyoming was in the first wave of states to charge electric vehicles a use tax, which recently increased from $50 to $200 annually. But Pappas said the increase wouldn’t close the funding gap.

“If we were California, (electric vehicle user fees) might work out, but we’re not California,” he said.

The fee only applies to electric vehicles registered in Wyoming, so the state captures no additional revenue from electric vehicles registered in other states and traveling on Wyoming highways.

“You could charge Wyoming (electric vehicle) users thousands and thousands — it’s not going cover the cost of maintaining the roads,” Pappas explained.

The federal government also taxes fuel, but Hassinger said it hasn’t raised taxes in 30 years and Wyoming receives the lowest federal reimbursement allowable. 

“Fuel taxes are a user fee — when you pay fuel tax, you’re paying to use the road,” Hassinger said. “Every state is struggling with this: How to fund rising infrastructure costs with diminishing revenues. The national consensus is it’s likely going to be a mix of all sorts of things.”

Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead

in News/Transportation
Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead
2015

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A toll proposed for Interstate 80 traffic could help the Wyoming Department of Transportation reduce the $41.5 million yearly funding deficit for maintaining the corridor, but not everyone is on board.

The Legislature’s Joint Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee reviewed the idea of tolling I-80 during its meeting in August.

“We have up to 19,000 vehicles driving I-80 in a 24-hour period, counting both ways, mostly between Green River and Rock Springs,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “We’re spending approximately $60 million a year on that highway.”

A 2018 Wyoming Department of Transportation study reported the department spent about $182 million on construction and maintenance for the I-80 corridor from 2016 to 2018. In order to simply maintain the highway’s current condition, WYDOT would need an additional $41.5 million annually. I-80 accounted for 62 percent of all Wyoming’s heavy truck traffic and about 20 percent of the state’s passenger vehicle traffic, the study found.

“The total funding to WYDOT from all sources has declined,” said Keith Fulton, the assistant chief engineer for WYDOT’s Engineering and Planning Division. “We’re seeing higher construction, labor and materials costs — if funding doesn’t change with those, you’re losing the strength to address those needs.”

While the details of a toll road have yet to be ironed out, Von Flatern said Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay a fee to drive I-80 under the plan examined by the committee.

“It won’t toll Wyoming-registered vehicles — it will only toll out-of-state vehicles,” he explained. “But, you can’t discriminate who you toll.”

Rather than charge vehicles registered in Wyoming, Von Flatern said the state would reimburse their owners for the toll cost, possibly with oil royalty income.

Opposition

For Sheila Foertsch, executive director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, charging only non-resident vehicles presents a problem.

“We have concerns about the current bill, because of the refund,” Foertsch said. “You must treat all trucking the same.”

In the past, the association did not oppose tolling studies proposed by Legislature or increases to registration fees and fuel tax, she said. 

“We understand there is a need,” Foertsch said. “But the State of Wyoming already receives registration fees and fuel tax. We currently have the sixth-highest registration fees in the nation. These trucks are not just traveling through scot free.”

Furthermore, she said the association thinks a toll could significantly impact local economies along the corridor.

“Truckers will often avoid a toll road at all costs,” Foertsch explained.

 Von Flatern said the tolling initiative received committee support, but only just. 

“We’re a little worried about getting two-thirds vote,” he explained. “It only passed the transportation committee 7-6.”

During budget sessions of the Legislature, such as the 2020 session, any measure not related to the state’s budget must receive a two-thirds majority vote to even be considered.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said he voted against the initiative, but wasn’t entirely opposed to a toll road.

“Eight years ago, it was looked at and the sentiment of the committee was, ‘We studied enough, let’s go ahead with it,’” Pappas said. “And, I’m not good with that.”

WYDOT needs the money, he said, but there are other funding avenues that could be explored.

“I’m not against the idea of tolls, but I think there are other and better ways of collecting funds that are more user friendly and easier to administer,” Pappas said. “We should look at increasing fuel tax, vehicle registration, weight fees, license fees and weight distance taxes. Everything should be on the table.”

Pappas said he is drafting a bill for the 2020 session to create a task force to look at all possibilities of revenue generation for the I-80 corridor. 

“I do understand this will be a study first, but frankly, I’m not ready to the spend the money on the study,” Pappas said. “I’d rather spend money on a task force to determine whether tolling is the best road to go down.”

Small request, big ask

Typically, when a state creates a toll on a road, it is required to pay back all the federal funding it received for that road, but Von Flatern said that wouldn’t be the case here.

The Federal Highway Administration is conducting a pilot program that could allow Wyoming to create a toll road without paying back any money, he explained. The Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program allows a state to collect tolls in order to reconstruct or rehabilitate an interstate corridor that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls, according to the committee’s issue brief.

Up to three facilities could participate in the program, and each must be located in a different state.

“All we’re asking for now is to put our name in with the federal tolling programs,” Von Flatern said.

If approved, the process could take a decade or more to produce an actual toll road. Von Flatern said the earliest guesses put the toll road creation somewhere around 2029 if no hiccups are encountered.

This isn’t the first time Von Flatern put forth a tolling initiative. In 2010, Senate File 35 proposed granting the Wyoming Transportation Commission authority to create a tolling program. While the bill cleared the Senate, it was killed by the House Transportation Committee.

“It can keep coming back,” Von Flatern said. “We have to do something, because WYDOT is losing the battle in taking care of all our roads.”

If WYDOT does not receive additional funding for I-80 maintenance and improvement, Fulton said the highway could begin to deteriorate.

“We may have to pull more money from other places or live with a little less condition than it is now,” he explained. “We’ll always make sure the road is safe, but we might be able to plow it a little less, and it will degrade over time.”

A salute to aviation at Wyoming’s only Spaceport

in Travel/Transportation/Tourism
Wyoming Spaceport celebration
Three boys check out the interior of one of the planes that flew to the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport during the 2018 Spaceport Days festival. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)
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A celebration of air travel at a Wyoming airport named with an eye to the future is in the cards this weekend.

Green River’s annual Spaceport Days, staged at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport, will be held Friday and Saturday and will feature a magic performance, outdoor screening of a “Star Wars” movie and a demonstration of the Aviat “Husky” airplane, made in Afton.

The Intergalactic Spaceport is a public use airstrip about five miles south of Green River that was renamed a spaceport in 1994.

According to published reports, the rural airport was renamed by Green River City Council members to convey “an offer of sanctuary to the possible residents of the planet of Jupiter” threatened at the time by pieces of a comet headed for the planet.

The airport is used by local pilots and pilots of small planes, said Amanda Cavaz, Green River’s communications administrator.

“We have people who come in and land, then they come in to explore,” she said. “We’ve had some people who land there to make sure everything is OK on their aircraft. It’s a great airport for anybody who is coming in to do recreation here in Green River.”

Green River Spaceport Days
Crowds check out the helicopters and airplanes on display at the 2018 Spaceport Days at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

Spaceport Days was organized as a way to celebrate aviation and local aviators, Cavaz said.

“And it’s to invite aviators from our region to come in and see our operation and share a breakfast,” she said.

Activities begin at 7 p.m. Friday with a performance by a magician, followed at 9 p.m. by the showing of a “Star Wars” movie and Star Wars costume contest.

Fire pits can be found throughout the area, allowing attendees to light campfires while watching the movie.

Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport
A young attendee at the 2018 Spaceport Days festival takes a look around the inside of a helicopter during the event held at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

“It’s really a fun, family-friendly type event,” Cavaz said. “People bring trucks and camp chairs and set up their camp chairs and watch a movie outdoors.”

On Saturday, a pancake breakfast will start the day at 8 a.m. The cost is $7 per person, but pilots who fly into the area will eat for free, Cavaz said.

“Most pilots like to fly early in colder air, so they land, taxi off the runway, park the aircraft and have breakfast on us,” she said. “Members of the public then have a chance to come in and look at all the different types of planes.”

In past years, pilots have flown to Green River from areas of Wyoming including Laramie, Afton and Pinedale, she said.

After breakfast, a UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopter and an “Airmed” rescue helicopter will be on display, while the “Husky” airplane created by Afton’s Aviat will put on an aerobatics demonstration.

For more information on Spaceport Days, visit there website here or go to the Spaceport Days and Fly-In page on Facebook.

What’s your take? Cowboy State Daily readers respond to traffic fatality story

in Transportation/Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming road fatalities
1787

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

My column about the increased danger on Wyoming roads this year generated some interesting responses from people around the state.

In that column it was pointed out that fatalities on Wyoming highway by Aug. 1 titled 92 compared to just 57 a year ago (in the intervening 10 days that number has climbed to 98). Why has it spiked so much?  My column (published on Cowboy State Daily) laid out some examples and possible reasons. Here is a collection of comments from some other folks around the state:

Vince Tomassi, Kemmerer-Diamondville:

“If the speed limit is 70, I get passed regularly by people going I would estimate 80-plus.Same for the 80 MPH sections (of Interstate 80), people are going 90. I agree with your friend about distracted drivers with cell phones, texting and driving.”

Jean Haugen, Lander:

“I have never seen the fatalities so bad, even back when my dad was a Patrolman.  A lot of the time, fatalities around here are either lack of wearing a seatbelt or falling asleep at the wheel and crashing. Wyoming used to have the reputation of having the best highways in the U.S.   It is very concerning.  It was certainly sad about those two ladies being killed that were from Riverton.”

Susan Gore, Cheyenne:

“Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak cites striking Colorado statistics, re: THC marijuana increasing traffic fatalities. THC alters time-distance perception even after the high is gone.  That is a difference from alcohol. His tragic Wyoming example is a high school senior with great life prospects going home after a graduation party.  Brian was there.”

Tucker Fagan, Cheyenne:

“I agree with Steve Peck’s editorial about information screens in cars (that was reprinted in the column). The Air Force uses displays on the wind screen to keep the pilot’s eyes outside the cockpit. Saw this several years ago on vehicles I rented but the technology has not achieved widespread use. Also since Alexa, etc. can do so many things, voice activation should be incorporated in vehicles.”

 Geoff O’Gara, Lander:

“A couple of thoughts about the rising death tolls on the roads. I think we all agree that drivers are often distracted by social media devices, even when they are specifically to aid drivers, like route mapping. Quite a few years ago I was driving back from work at PBS in Riverton and a driver swerved out of the busy opposite lane and right across my path – she went off the opposite shoulder, lucky for me she didn’t try to recover or it would have been a head-on. From the way her head bobbed up, I’m quite sure she was looking down at a screen, or else asleep.”

Here are two other elements to consider, and I’m guessing there are studies out there that I’m too lazy to look for:

1. “The ridiculously big and growing vehicles that so many people drive these days, in our comfort-seeking over-indulgence – for tourists, sometimes rental RVs much bigger than what you normally drive at home. As a bicyclist, watching them weave around, I’m terrified.

2. “The aging American population, and the enormous number of retired oldsters with the wealth to wander around the highways. The driver in the Grand Teton crash was 65. The victims were even older. I’m in my 60s now and my reflexes aren’t all they used to be. Cognitively, older folks process more slowly, and may focus less intently. “It’s dangerous out there! Take the train! (Bring passenger trains back to Wyoming!)”

John Davis, Worland

“I think the usual reason for variation in highway deaths is simple statistical variation.  That is, when you have a large number of random events, there will always be a substantial variation of incidents, simply from the nature of the randomness of chances.  Sometimes you can trace the fact, of, say, extra highway deaths, to specific causes, but not usually.”

Phil White, Laramie:

“It is good you are calling attention to the carnage on the highways.  I’m hearing more and more often from various people, especially about the Front Range madness, that the roads are simply no longer capable of handling the traffic.  They cannot be upgraded fast enough to maintain even a minimal level of safety for a population growing so fast.

“I’m sure you are right about the distractions inside cars.  More important than motorhomes, I would think, is the explosion in the past 15 years of semis on Interstate 80.  Every time I do a casual count I find that semis account for about half of the vehicles on Interstate 80 and there have been a lot of wrecks involving semis.  One of them coming out of Telephone Canyon and onto the flats south of Laramie several years ago plowed into a vehicle stopped in a line of cars because of a previous accident between grand avenue exit and 3rd street exit.  Four members of one family were all wiped out in that one.  Even big heavy SUVs and pickups are no match for semis.  At 80 mph they have no chance to avoid collisions and their mass magnifies the damages.

“As to alcohol, I’ve been trying for years to get (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and other parties to push the Legislature to prohibit drive-up liquor store windows.  I believe I read that Wyoming is the only state that still allows drive-up windows.  It’s an easy way for liquor dealers to avoid the responsibility to not sell alcohol to someone who, if made to walk inside, would display obvious impairment.  (Of course the Legislature and the Supreme Court also have refused for years to create “dramshop law” liability for liquor dealers who sell to obviously impaired adults.  As the law now stands, a liquor store owner cannot be held responsible for a drunk driver killing another motorist, even if the liquor dealer sells liquor to and then helps the buyer get into his car because he can barely even walk).

“As to speed, I am always amazed when the Legislature raises the speed limit.  Even before the recent increases it was already well established that at night going 70 mph it is almost impossible for a vehicle to stop in time after an object becomes visible in the headlights.  When they raise the limit they are simply saying ‘We are willing to sacrifice a few hundred lives or a thousand lives over time to save everybody else a few minutes in getting to their destination.’

“I often think of John Muir’s observation after touring Yellowstone in the late 1800s from his Our National Parks (1917): ‘The regular trips–from three to five days–are too short.  Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day.  The multitude of mixed, novel impressions rapidly piled on one another make only a dreamy, bewildering, swirling blur, most of which is unremembered.’”

Larry Wolfe, Cheyenne:

“I just rode my bike on 365 miles of the State’s road (a bit of that in MT). Those of us on bikes are scared to death of distracted drivers there were many stories of close calls. Good for you for bringing attention to this.”

Big Boy back in Cheyenne after Midwest tour

in News/Transportation
1790

The largest steam locomotive ever built is back in its home of Wyoming after a cross-country trip that took it through six states.

“Big Boy,” the refurbished steam engine returned to the rails by Union Pacific in May, was greeted by crowds of train enthusiasts in Pine Bluffs on Thursday as it returned to Wyoming after a trip that took it through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The locomotive, the only one of its kind to travel the rails since the model was retired in 1961, left Wyoming on July 8 for the tour dubbed the “Great Race Across the Midwest.”

Crowds who met the train as it pulled into Pine Bluffs marveled at its size.

“If you look at a baseball field, home plate to first base is 90 feet,” said Joe Partoll of Castle Rock, Colorado. “(The Big Boy) is another 42 feet past that. It’s a pretty incredible size engine.”

The very size of the locomotive — which weighs in at more than 600 tons — had many doubting the Big Boy could be restored, said Ed Dickens, manager of Union Pacific’s Heritage Operations.

“There was a groundswell of pessimism as we announced the project,” he said. “When you look at the locomotive right here and look at how big it is, it’s just a massive machine. So I can understand a little bit of pessimism that ‘Hey, that’s just too big…’ Well, here we are right now in downtown Pine Bluffs and we’ve got this awesome Big Boy.”

Some 25 of the Big Boys were built in the 1940s to pull heavy loads up steep grades between Utah and Wyoming. Only eight remain intact and the one in Cheyenne, referred to as “No. 4014,” is the only one running.

The history attached to the huge locomotive was responsible for drawing some members of the crowd to Pine Bluffs.

“It’s part of America,” said Rob Davis of San Francisco. “America would not be what it is today without the trains.”

Federal bill would help Wyoming’s highway maintenance

in News/Transportation
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Proposed federal legislation could bring millions of federal dollars to Wyoming to help the state maintain its highways.

The Fixing American Surface Transportation Act — called the FAST Act — is a $287 billion highway transportation package that just cleared a U.S. Senate committee by a vote of 21-0. The bill calls for a 27 percent increase in funding for the nation’s highways over the next five years.

Wyoming now receives about $285 million in federal money per year to maintain its highways. The FAST Act would increase that funding by 2 percent in the bill’s first year and by 1 percent each year for the following four.

Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said the extra cash would be a benefit for Wyoming, given shortfalls it sees now in highway funds.

“We’re about $135 million short in unfunded needs per year …” he said. “So certainly the 2 percent, 1 percent you talk about would add $15 million or $20 million. That would certainly go toward our focus on maintaining our infrastructure.

The act would also streamline some regulations the department must now comply with, Reiner said, such as required traffic congestion studies.

“It’s in the federal rule that says we need to count the cars … somewhere between Casper and Cody at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a good use of our time. We do not have a congestion issue like other states and communities.”

Wyoming already pays three times the national average per person to maintain its roads, Reiner said, due in part to its low population and also to the amount of traffic on interstate highways coming from other states.

“It’s a national road and we certainly pay to maintain it,” he said. “The federal money we get goes directly to that.”

Wyoming’s Legislature this year approved a 3 cent boost in gasoline taxes that is expected to raise about $13 million a year for highway work.

WHP issues reminder to holiday drivers — drive sober, avoid distractions

in News/Transportation
1580

The Wyoming Highway Patrol is urging Wyoming’s citizens to drive sober — and without distractions.

So far this year, 77 people have died in accidents on Wyoming’s roads. Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeremy Beck said to slow the growth of that number, motorists need to remember basic safe driving tips.

“Motorists still need to take into account that if you’re driving impaired and under the influence, you’re more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision,” he said. “If you’re driving without a seatbelt, you’re more likely to be seriously hurt if involved in a … collision. Don’t drive distracted. Put away your phone when you decide to drive to your destination.”

Driving while intoxicated always raises the risk of an accident, Beck said.

“Do not drive impaired,” he said. “You’re risking your self and anyone else who’s on the roadway’s safety.”

However, driving distracted, such as when making a phone call or answering a text, is also dangerous, he said.

“No phone call or text is worth your life,” he said.

To vet Wyoming vanity plates, WYDOT consults Urban Dictionary

in News/Transportation
Wyoming Vanity Plates
1552

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The average English-speaking American adult has a 42,000 -word vocabulary. But the state employees who vet submissions for vanity Wyoming license plates have been exposed to thousands more. 

L0RDY. GTF0

The combination of up to five letters, numbers and spaces allowed on vanity plates never ceases to inspire the imaginations of Wyoming drivers. 

Some vanity plate requests are so immature they’re LAAME. Others are RCST, PERV or make references to DRUGS. And some are so graphic, their associated imagery is FDUP and can make UPUKE.

0HEL.

When applicants request a vanity plate, the Wyoming Department of Transportation makes it clear: “Any combination that spells, connotes, abbreviates, or otherwise stands for language that is obscene, vulgar, indecent, or pruriently suggestive will not be allowed,” according to the application form. 5H1T.

To ensure a smutty or otherwise inappropriate request doesn’t sneak through, the WYDOT’s Motor Vehicle Services staffers cover their BUTTS a few ways. 

The division maintains a list of 3,255 words – and growing – that employees can cross reference if a request’s meaning isn’t obvious. All of NSFW words capitalized in this story can be found on that list.

The staffers can also search online, including on Urban Dictionary, said Debbie Lopez, the WYDOT Motor Vehicle Services manager.

When applying for a vanity plate, the WYDOT form asks for the meaning behind the requested combination. 

After all, one person’s CRAP could be another person’s nickname. “If the customer has a meaning for their combination that doesn’t make sense–for example, if customer wants a random four- to five-letter word and says it is the initials of four or five of their friends, we will check the word/acronym against sources on the internet, like Urban Dictionary,” Lopez said. If the person issuing the plate has reservations about a request, the question will be put to a team of Motor Vehicle Services staffers who will research the issue and offer opinions. If no resolution can be reached, the plate goes to Lopez for approval or denial.

At any given time, Lopez says there are about 20,000 to 25,000 vanity plates on the road. That means employees are constantly vigilant when reviewing applications. People’s minds aren’t exactly climbing out of the gutter.  “Because of all the texting acronyms, the process is becoming more work-intensive,” she said. 

DAMN. 

Analysis: Who Uses the Wyoming State Plane the Most?

in Government spending/News/Transportation
Wyoming state plane
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s two twin-engine passenger jets — nicknamed “Wyoming’s Air Force” — spend most of their time ferrying state officials around Wyoming, but about 10 percent of the flights leave the state, according to state records.

“I don’t know the background of all the flights that are flown out of state,” said Brian Olsen, the Wyoming Department of Transportation aeronautics division administrator. “It could be cheaper (than driving), but I think a lot of it could have to do with scheduling.”

Although the planes are maintained by WYDOT, Olsen explained each state agency can use them.

“We submit two reports to our Transportation Commission, detailing how many flights the planes took and (which agency) used them,” he said.

However, WYDOT does not keep track of the reasons for the trips taken by other agencies.

Olsen said he was not aware of a specific organization or committee charged with overseeing who uses the planes for what.

Previously, Cowboy State Daily reported the jets cost about $1 million to operate and maintain each year and made 663 trips carrying 2,213 passengers during fiscal year 2018. WYDOT reported about 12 percent of those flights were out-of-state.

In fiscal year 2017, the two planes logged a total of 725 one-way legs and 2,294 passengers with about 10 percent of those flights leaving the state. During fiscal year 2016, they completed 852 legs carrying 2,604 passengers and about 10 percent of flights left the state.

The numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 do not accurately reflect the planes’ usage, however, WYDOT spokesperson J. O’Brien said.

If members from two agencies board the same flight, WYDOT records the trip as two legs instead of one. Also, the passenger numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 include flight and maintenance crew, which are not typically considered passengers. WYDOT listed nearly 30 categories of users for each of the three years, during all of which the department was the planes’ primary user. In fiscal year 2016, WYDOT used the planes for 246 legs, carrying 827 passengers. In fiscal year 2017, the department flew 834 passengers on 222 legs, and during fiscal year 2018, WYDOT reported using the planes for 224 legs, carrying 693.

The governor’s office is consistently the second-highest user when combined with the governor’s residence category, which is used to log the flights of Wyoming’s first lady.

In fiscal year 2016, the governor’s office logged 123 legs carrying 452 passengers, while the governor’s residence reported 21 legs carrying 39 passengers. During fiscal year 2017, the governor’s office was responsible for 127 legs carrying 439 passengers, and the governor’s residence logged 14 legs carrying 29 passengers. And in fiscal year 2018, the governor’s office reported 97 legs carrying 330 passengers, while the governor’s residence recorded 27 legs carrying 44 passengers.

The Office of the Governor, Mark Gordon, who took office in 2019, said in a prepared statement: “Governor Gordon supports fiscal responsibility and the judicious use of taxpayer dollars. Several WYDOT studies have determined that owning state aircraft is more cost-efficient than private charters or driving vast distances.

“With his demanding schedule and numerous commitments across the state, the governor utilizes air travel on a limited basis in order to conduct official duties and be as accessible as possible to all Wyoming citizens, not just those in Cheyenne,” the statement concluded.

In fiscal year 2016, the Wyoming Department of Corrections Parole Board tied with the University of Wyoming for third-most user of the planes with both logging 120 legs. WDOC’s legs carried 352 passengers, while UW carried 278.

Neither agency logged more than 100 legs in fiscal yer 2017, but in fiscal year 2018, UW ranked the third-highest user with 112 legs carrying 295 passengers.

UW also owns two Beechcraft King Air turboprop aircraft, UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin said. One is designated for research, and the other is used for transportation.

Olsen said legislators can also use the state’s passenger jets, but those occurrences are rare.

“If one of them were to use the planes, they would have to log it under an agency they are working with or the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO),”  he explained.

The LSO logged 8 legs carrying 16 passengers in fiscal year 2016, and 8 legs carrying 14 passengers in fiscal year 2017. No trips were recorded by the LSO in fiscal year 2018.

In addition to carrying passengers, WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner said the planes could be used during emergency situations.

“They can be used for emergency viewing of a wildfire,” Reiner said. “And, let’s say WYDOT needs to look at a flood area or mud slide, they could be used for that, too.”

Modern Marvel: 90-year-old plane takes to the Wyoming skies

in News/Transportation
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The eyes go the skies when vintage aircraft signal their arrival.

A group of experimental aviators made it to Casper this weekend to spread the joy of flight and show off a 90-year-oold passenger plane from the era of Charles Lindbergh.

Frank Gambino tells us the story of the Ford Tri-Motor airplane, nicknamed the Tin Goose.

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