Another infusion of federal cash is headed our way.
Earlier this month, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion legislative package designed to boost the nation’s infrastructure. The measure is expansive: There is funding for roadwork, bridge repairs, airport development and wildfire protection, among other things. The bill will add billions of dollars to the federal deficit, but it will also address a problem that’s festered for decades: America’s infrastructure needs some help.
Wyoming’s share of the funding amounts to nearly $2 billion. That includes $1.8 billion to improve the state’s highways, $225 million for bridge repairs and replacement, $335 million for water infrastructure needs, $100 million to improve broadband coverage and $14 million for wildfire protection.
Our congressional delegation — Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis — all opposed the legislation. They acknowledged that the nation’s infrastructure needs repairs, and that the bill would address issues here in Wyoming, such as providing funding for the Bureau of Reclamation’s system of reservoirs. But, they said, the bill contains too many wasteful provisions while adding to the federal deficit. Still, this bill will become law as soon as this week, and regardless of one’s support or opposition, Wyoming has an opportunity to leverage this funding for the creation of jobs and betterment of our way of life.
The details of the spending have yet to be worked out. State lawmakers will convene in February for a budget session, and they’ll decide how to specifically appropriate the money. And while it might be tempting for some Wyomingites to thumb their noses at the feds, it’s important now to be pragmatic. We have problems to solve.
Anyone who’s made the drive from Casper to Laramie knows this. A half hour out from the Oil City, a driver encounters a string of ruts and dips that can make even a seasoned Wyomingite a little nervous. The winters here are brutal, and the constant freezing and thawing wreaks havoc on our roads, many of which are in need of repair. And let’s not forget that the Wyoming Department of Transportation was facing a major budget shortfall as recently as last year.
Other parts of our infrastructure system could also benefit from some attention. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly 7% of the state’s bridges are “structurally deficient” and 99 dams are classified as having “high hazard potential.” Meanwhile, swathes of our state suffer from broadband coverage issues.
Given all that, it’s important for lawmakers to maximize the opportunities the infrastructure money affords. And it’s equally important to be transparent about it. We’ve discussed before our concern that state lawmakers have not articulated in depth how they plan to spend the influx of federal cash that we’ve received since the start of the pandemic. That same concern holds true here.
Wyoming continues to enjoy new sources of revenue. First there was the COVID relief money. Then we saw a revenue boost from higher oil and gas prices. Now, we’re getting nearly $2 billion for our infrastructure. Together, they represent a real opportunity to address long-term issues facing our state. Good infrastructure is essential as we seek to put Wyoming on a more sustainable course. Regardless of how you might feel about Congress or the process that took us to this point, the focus now should be on improving our state. Let’s take full advantage of this opportunity.