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Pondering pavement

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Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Commissioners reconsidering Old Highway 85 project

The Board of Weston County Commissioners is reconsidering the future of Old Highway 85 east of Newcastle, citing an increase in costs associated with paving a portion of the road. The board plans to hold a public discussion during its regular meeting on April 2, according to County Clerk Becky Hadlock, although a time is not yet set.

Originally, the board had decided to use the CRIP, or Commission Road Improvement Program, through the Wyoming Department of Transportation to complete a full-depth reclamation with an October 2022 estimated cost of $869,083. At the time, Scott Taylor, WYDOT district engineer for District 4, had informed the board that the project would be funded 85% by the CRIP program, with a 15% match from the county.

According to Taylor, original preliminary estimates ranged from $135,000 for leaving the entire stretch a gravel road to approximately $2 million to perform a pavement overlay on the 3.63 mile stretch.

The current scope of work in 2022, Taylor said on Sept. 7, is to pave from the edge of city limits to Greenhouse Road. From Greenhouse Road to the replacement bridge was scheduled to have full-depth reclamation completed.

After hearing concerns from the public, however, the commissioners decided to reconsider the project’s scope in October 2022. After public discussion, the board decided to change the project’s scope from full-depth reclamation and gravel to complete reconstruction, Taylor said on March 6.

According to Taylor, this change in scope initially increased the cost to roughly $3 million, and  that cost has now increased to just under
$4 million. Because of the
way the CRIP project is funded, with a maximum of $3 million funded by the state, the county has seen an estimated increase in costs of $662,000 for the project that is now slated for 2028.

Commissioner Nathan Todd cited the $662,000 increase as a reason the board should reconsider the scope of the project, noting that the costs to the county could increase substantially by the time the project is undertaken in 2028.

Taylor acknowledged the increase, explaining that he did inform the board at the time of the reconsideration that the change in scope would significantly increase the costs associated with the project.

When asked by Todd what the county would be responsible for if the commissioners were to decide they could not afford the project, Taylor said the county would be responsible for preliminary engineering fees, per the signed agreement.

It was noted by Taylor that the project could be paused or delayed as well.

“I agree with Commissioner Todd. I think we need to relook at it,” Commissioner Vera Huber said, noting that she can’t imagine what increases the county could see in costs between 2024 and 2028.

Commissioner Ed Wagoner agreed, stating that he would like to know how much the county was “on the hook for” when it came to preliminary engineering costs.

Chairman Don Taylor also agreed that the board should look at the project again, although he acknowledged the “double-edged” sword of potentially delaying the project and allowing the road to deteriorate more.

Following the discussion with Taylor, the board decided to revisit the subject on March 19, and that is when Todd reported that the county would be responsible for only $7,000 in engineering costs if it were to change the scope or cancel the project.

“We are not in the hole by any means,” Todd said, adding that he thinks the county needs to hold another public discussion on the subject.

He noted that while the public previously stated they would like the road paved, no other county has paved roads. Todd said that the public would have the opportunity to speak but that the board doesn’t have to necessarily do what the public wants.

He added that he wants the public to know that their concerns are valid and that they are part of the conversation.

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