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infrastructure

More Than 1,200 Wyo Bridges Need Fixing But The State Lacks the Resources To Fix Them

in News/Legislature
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

More than 7% of Wyoming’s 3,114 bridges on Wyoming’s public roads are structurally deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory.

But the state lacks the money to pay for the necessary repairs to bring all of the deficient bridges up to code, according to state officials.

A bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, collapsed last week, dropping a Port Authority bus and several cars into a park below and injuring 10 people. Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for the percentage of bridges that are considered structurally deficient. 

Wyoming, on the other hand, is ranked 20th in the nation in the percentage of its bridges considered structurally deficient, defined as a bridge where one key element is in poor condition.

“Deficient does not mean dangerous,” said Mark Madsen, a civil engineer based out of Cheyenne who serves on the Wyoming Workforce Council and is currently the Associate Vice President of the Wyoming Contractor’s Association. 

“It’s deficient, meaning it needs upgraded,” he said. 

Roy Cohee, former state House Speaker who served in the Legislature from 1999 to 2010, told Cowboy State Daily that reliable roads and bridges are very important for companies like the one his family owns, C&Y Transportation.

“In my family, we’ve been in the heavy trucking business for 53, 54 years,” he said, “and highway safety and the construction and the maintenance of it was incredibly important to us.” 

Cohee said reliable roads and bridges are critical for a state like Wyoming in the absence of multiple transportation options.

“We don’t have much public transportation, no trains, no intrastate air travel, so people have to drive,” he said. “It’s important to be sure that the highways are constructed properly in the first place, but maintained to the point that they will last a good long time.” 

The state has identified needed repairs on 1,216 bridges at an estimated cost of $529.4 million.

However, the state’s budget in the last few years has seen a steep decline due to a decrease in mineral royalties, cutting into the amount available for such work.

“Just four or five years ago, we were only replacing four bridges a year,” Madsen pointed out. “I mean, just doing simple math, we’re expecting a bridge to last 400 years.”

But in those same four or five years, the state has made progress. In 2017, 291 bridges in Wyoming were classified as structurally deficient – in 2021, that number was down to 230.

“As a former member of the Wyoming Legislature, like anything, things are prioritized,” Cohee said, acknowledging the lawmaking body’s historically conservative attitudes towards spending.

“Wyoming’s Legislature doesn’t like to tax much. It’s very, very difficult to get anything through our revenue committee, let alone the legislature,” he said. “So it’s tough to get the Legislature to agree to any type of enhancement to taxation, even if the infrastructure is, frankly, in need of some additional funds. It’s very difficult for them to even consider a fuel tax.”

Cohee added that the legislature has to consider the spending needs for programs other than transportation, even if highway safety casts a long shadow on the state’s culture and economy.

“They recognize that fine balance, about what needs to be funded with public resources, highways being one of them, but you have community colleges, you have public schools, and many other things, water development, all of those things take money. But the Legislature then, and I’m sure now, realizes that without a decent highway system, a state where the people move from one place to the other is incredibly important, particularly for Wyoming’s people.”

Cohee said he was confident the Wyoming Department of Transportation would be able to keep highways and infrastructure safe for traffic.

“Coming from that industry group, I always felt that Wyoming did a really, really good job that entire time that we were in that business keeping track of their highways and the construction and the maintenance of it, and have done an extremely good job,” he said.

Paul “Cactus” Covello, former chair of the Wyoming Transportation Commission and current member of the Wyoming Business Council, agreed that WYDOT and its partners have a good handle on the safety of Wyoming’s highways and bridges.

“I like to think that the engineers in the state’s departments do a pretty good job of inspecting the bridges on a pretty regular basis,” Covello told Cowboy State Daily. “Obviously, in our state, some of them have a little bit of age on them, but you’ll find that they’re out looking at them pretty closely.

“I know, here in Goshen County, they’ve done an extensive job of going out and inspecting bridges for wear and tear,” Covello continued. “Now, oftentimes on the overpasses and stuff like that we have trucks come along and do some damage, but I think for the most part bridges are in pretty good repair.” 

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Wyoming To Receive $63M For Water Infrastructure Improvement

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will receive a little more than $63 million in funding through the federal government next year to improve the state’s aging water infrastructure and addressing key challenges with drinking water.

The funding will create jobs while upgrading the water infrastructure, as well. Wyoming will receive $63,041,000 to invest in critical wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects.

In a letter sent to governors today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator encouraged states to maximize the impact of water funding from the law, a $50 billion investment, to address disproportionate environmental burdens in historically underserved communities across the country.

“With President Biden’s leadership and congressional action, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has created an historic opportunity to correct longstanding environmental and economic injustices across America,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan“As leaders, we must seize this moment. Billions of dollars are about to start flowing to states and it is critical that EPA partners with states, Tribes, and territories to ensure the benefits of these investments are delivered in the most equitable way.”

In total, EPA will allocate $7.4 billion to states, tribes, and territories for 2022, with nearly half of this funding available as grants or principal forgiveness loans that remove barriers to investing in essential water infrastructure in underserved communities across rural America and in urban centers.

The 2022 allocation is the first of five years of $43 billion in dedicated EPA funding that states will receive through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

For more than 30 years, the state revolving funds have been the foundation of water infrastructure investments, providing low-cost financing for local projects across America.

However, many vulnerable communities facing water challenges have not received their fair share of federal water infrastructure funding. Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have an opportunity to correct this disparity.

“EPA is committed to making the most of this historic opportunity to help Wyoming communities invest in the critical infrastructure that will deliver clean water and safe drinking water for decades to come,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker.In addition to creating jobs across the state, these funds will improve the health of our watersheds and expand access to safe drinking water for homes, businesses, schools, and childcare centers; including the disadvantaged communities who need it most.”

This is just one portion of the issues being addressed in the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Roads, bridges, airports, rail transit, water systems, the power grid, broadband internet and more are all targets of the spending bill.

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Wyoming Industry Groups Say Federal Infrastructure Bill Will Be Good For Business

in News/wyoming economy
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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Some Wyoming industry groups say the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill will be good for business in the Cowboy State.

As far as transportation goes, it’s definitely a win, according to Katie Legerski, executive director for Associated General Contractors of Wyoming, the members of which are mostly people in horizontal construction including highways, roads and bridges.

Roads, bridges, airports, rail transit, water systems, the power grid, broadband internet and more are all targets of the spending bill with an emphasis on Democratic pet issues like climate change mitigation.

Legerski also sees the bill as an economic boon.

“We see for every $1 put into construction on a regular basis it turns over four to six times in the local economy, and it would also assist the contractors as well with additional projects,” she told The Center Square.

For a number of years, highways in Wyoming have been under a preservation system because it lacked funds, according to Legerski, who cited a study by the Wyoming Department of Transportation stating it was short $190 million a year for surface transportation infrastructure. 

“Our roads are beginning to deteriorate at a pretty alarming rate,” she said. “What we’re finding is for every $1 not spent today, it’s going to cost us $4 to $8 in the future to take care of that road.”

For Wyoming as a whole, transportation, the energy grid, and broadband are going to get a lot of play, according to Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell.

Dorrell said the infrastructure bill is “speaking Wyoming’s language.”

“When you talk about energy: so you think about carbon management, hydrogen, critical minerals and materials, even renewable energy and nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing – those are all squarely within Wyoming’s economic strategy, and we have a lot of the groundwork and resources ready to go to mobilize in all of those areas,” he told The Center Square.

Legerski is excited to see her state receive additional funding, and expects it to help sustain its workforce and transportation network so commerce can grow through safe and effective roads.

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Biden Stops Infrastructure Talks With GOP; Barrasso Fires Back

in News/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso was none too pleased this week when President Joe Biden ended negotiations with a group of Republican senators regarding a proposed infrastructure bill.

Biden ended negotiations with the senators, including Barrasso, on Tuesday following weeks of discussion without any forward movement.

“The president has made it clear that he has no intention of agreeing to a plan that addresses core, physical infrastructure,” Barrasso said. “President Biden and his team are trying to satisfy an insatiable far-left agenda that demands massive tax hikes and spending trillions of dollars on things unrelated to physical infrastructure.”

Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this year, but many Republicans, including Barrasso, have been outspoken in their opposition to it because of a perceived lack of focus on “traditional” infrastructure such as roads, bridges and waterways.

However, Barrasso was criticized by ABC News host Martha Raddatz for some unchecked claims he made about the bill.

“The 6% for roads and bridges figures you and other GOP leaders have cited has been fact-checked multiple times,” she told Barrasso during an appearance in May. “The total amount for what you have called traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, waterways, public transit is more than 25% of the Biden plan. So, do you want more?”

The total proposed $2 trillion package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

“In return for our multiple, significant offers to invest in our roads, bridges, ports, airports and waterways, the president continues to seek a massive tax and spend plan,” Barrasso said. “Republicans are serious about passing a responsible, targeted infrastructure plan that truly meets the needs of America, without adding the burdens of higher taxes, more federal debt, and job-killing regulations.”

He added that he and his fellow senators were ready to work with congressional Democrats who recognized that a bipartisan agreement on physical infrastructure was possible.

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Barrasso Praises Biden For Willingness to Work With Republicans

in News/politics/John Barrasso
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso offered kind words regarding President Joe Biden and his administration for their willingness to work with congressional Republicans on Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill.

On Thursday, Barrasso and five other Republican senators (including Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker) met with the president to discuss a possible compromise regarding the bill.

The Wyoming senator called the meeting “very productive” and praised Biden’s willingness to work with Republicans on a compromise.

“I believe that Joe Biden is actually interested in cutting a deal with Republicans,” he said. “We knew going in we were going to be Plan B…but we told him we are willing to work with him…but we’re going to leave out subsidies for electric vehicles, we’re going to leave out so-called climate justice.”

The senators and Biden will meet sometime again Tuesday to continue discussions.

Last month, Barrasso and other Senate Republicans proposed a counteroffer to Biden’s bill, costing $568 billion and focusing more on “traditional” infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public transport, something the senators have claimed is only a minor notation in Biden’s original proposal.

It should be noted that Barrasso was recently fact-checked about some his claims regarding the infrastructure bill, mainly his statements about how only 6% of the bill focused on “traditional” infrastructure.

“The 6% for roads and bridges figures you and other GOP leaders have cited has been fact-checked multiple times,” ABC host Martha Radditz said to Barrasso earlier this month. “The total amount for what you have called traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, waterways, public transit is more than 25% of the Biden plan. So, do you want more?”

Barrasso did not object to the fact check, instead saying he has been working with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, on traditional infrastructure projects in this new bill.

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ABC Host Spars With Barrasso About Biden’s Infrastructure Bill

in News/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A host of ABC’s “This Week” interrupted an interview with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso over the weekend to challenge his claims about President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill.

Barrasso appeared on the news program to discuss the proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill and congressional Republicans’ $548 billion counteroffer and repeated claims about the bill made recent weeks, including the statement that only 6% of Biden’s bill goes to roads and bridges and that there was more money in the bill for electric cars than “traditional” infrastructure.

Host Martha Raddatz quickly said this was an incorrect claim.

“The 6% for roads and bridges figures you and other GOP leaders have cited has been fact-checked multiple times,” she told Barrasso. “The total amount for what you have called traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, waterways, public transit is more than 25% of the Biden plan. So, do you want more?”

Barrasso did not object to the fact check, instead saying he has been working with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, on traditional infrastructure projects in this new bill.

“So I actually believe there’s a deal to be had if we leave things out like the Green New Deal, and recyclable cafeteria trays and climate justice, because $500 billion to $600 billion of infrastructure is a massive amount of infrastructure,” Barrasso said.

He said if the administration would go back and look at his infrastructure bill which passed unanimously when he chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, the issue would be solved.

“I voted for it, Bernie Sanders voted for it. It focuses on building faster, better, cheaper, smarter, it focuses on the things that people think of as core infrastructure that the president talks about — his hard infrastructure,” Barrasso said.

The total proposed $2 trillion package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

When Raddatz tried to change the topic to President Trump’s continuous attacks on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Wyoming colleague Rep. Liz Cheney and if that hurt the Republican Party, Barrasso punted stating that we needed to “get beyond all of that.”

“We need to focus on the 2022 elections, so that we can win back the house win back the Senate, get united on the things on which we agree, and then successfully stop the far extreme efforts of this Biden administration and those that are taking the country towards socialism,” he said.

Raddatz didn’t act surprised that Barrasso reeled off GOP talking points instead of answering the question as she chuckled when thanking him for appearing on the program.

“Okay, that question not exactly answered, but we appreciate you coming on this morning, senator,” she said.

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Lummis Blasts Biden For Being Partisan On Infrastructure

in News/Cynthia Lummis/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis this week questioned the motives behind President Joe Biden’s latest infrastructure bill, noting that the legislation only has support from congressional Democrats.

During a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Lummis called on Biden to unite the two parties in Congress so they can work together on the proposed $2 trillion package.

“Honestly, I am hard pressed to remember a time when infrastructure was not bipartisan,” she said. “In 2021, this should be no different. If President Biden wants to truly unite the nation, he can start by working with Republicans on the most basic bipartisan issues.”

She said it was “perplexing” that Biden, who campaigned on a message of bringing the nation together, was pushing a “blatantly partisan bill.”

“While much divides Congress these days, infrastructure, as that term is understood by most Americans, is a bipartisan issue,” Lummis said. “As such one would assume President Biden would want to find some common ground in order to build relationships in Congress and address the needs of every citizen.”

The infrastructure package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

In particular, Lummis addressed the current backlog in funding that the nation’s highways and bridges face. 

“Right now, we have a highway trust fund that we can’t actually trust,” she said. “Since 2008 we have been relying on general fund transfers to pay for our roads and bridges, instead of fixing our user fee model to keep the trust fund solvent.”

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White House Details How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Will Benefit Wyoming

in News/Economy
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Internet service, drinking water systems and renters in Wyoming would all benefit from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, according to details released Monday by the White House.

The White House laid out plans on Monday for how the American Jobs Plan would benefit each state, listing 12 areas that would be addressed in Wyoming.

The total $2 trillion package focuses on job creation, traditional infrastructure spending and investment in certain areas such as funding for care workers and for childcare to be offered at workplaces.

The American Jobs Plan action detail for Wyoming did not specify how much would come to the state for the 12 areas identified.

The White House report noted that Wyoming’s drinking water infrastructure will require $458 million in additional funding over the next 20 years and that 27,000 renters in Wyoming are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

The Biden infrastructure plan will spend $111 billion and $200 billion on drinking water and affordable housing, respectively.

The plan would also dedicate $600 billion for highway improvements, including $115 billion for repairs to road and bridges. The report said 218 of Wyoming’s bridges and 318 miles of its highways are in “poor” condition.

The release also said 27% of Wyomingites live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure, while 63.6% live in an area where there is only one broadband provider. Around 12% of Wyoming residents do not have any internet subscription plan.

Biden’s plan would set aside almost $100 billion to bring “universal, reliable, high-speed and affordable” internet service to “every family in America.”

Biden also intended to address manufacturing in the infrastructure plan, investing $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers and provide incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

Wyoming’s congressional delegates have all come out against the plan, calling it “out-of-control” and a “political football.”

“This proposal…will hike taxes and spend trillions of dollars on the left’s radical agenda,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said. “Democrats are offering to hamstring the economy with higher energy bills and higher taxes for families in Wyoming and across the country. Republicans want to protect our energy dominance, and let hardworking Americans keep the money they earned.”

Appearing on Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said she couldn’t support Biden’s infrastructure plan because 94% of it has nothing to do with infrastructure.

“The National Association of Manufacturers has said that we will probably lose over a million jobs if this is enacted,” she said. “And you are certainly going to see in addition to the corporate tax increases in the bill, you’ll see middle class tax increases.”

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