May 17, 2022

State agencies prepare to spend billions on infrastructure development


State agencies prepare to spend billions on infrastructure development



I-25 and I-80


A view looking northeast of the Interstate 25 and I-80 interchange on Wednesday in Cheyenne. Michael Smith/For the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Runway construction


Construction crews work on a runway on Friday at Cheyenne Regional Airport. Michael Smith/For the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is set to provide billions of dollars for development efforts across Wyoming, which many agencies said they are prepared to fight for.

Funding available is a part of the more than $1.2 trillion approved by Congress in November to send throughout the nation over a five-year period. President Joe Biden said he pushed for the bill because it was designed to rebuild crumbling infrastructure like roads, bridges and rails, expanding access to clean water, ensuring access to high-speed internet service and investing in energy.

"This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America," he said on passage of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. "And it's long overdue."

However, state officials said the process itself will be extensive and time-consuming. Many are unsure when residents will start to see the impact.

This is due to the structure of the funding. Although 60% of the funding is formulaic, which means it is funneled directly to state and local governments, there is 40% left in the form of competitive grants. The issue is this $480 billion has not yet received rules and regulations for applications.

Officials in Wyoming do not yet know whether their projects qualify, how to apply or when the money will be awarded.

"That's the golden question," Gov. Mark Gordon's senior business and economic development policy advisor, Rob Creager, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Regardless, he said state officials are ready. Teams and grant managers are being hired to identify state needs and work through the application process in order to guarantee funding. But administrative assistance is also costing agencies added expenses, which the policy advisor said they are hoping to get covered with a portion of the grants.


The Wyoming Department of Transportation added a new staff member to handle the funding, especially as it is responsible for a significant portion of the infrastructure initiative. Director Luke Reiner said WYDOT is collecting $2 billion in formula funding, and it expects to apply for grants for added projects.

The largest portion of the funding is for Wyoming roads. Reiner told the WTE that $1.76 billion will go toward surface transportation during the next five years, which the agency will administer portions of annually. He said this infrastructure bill gives the transportation department around $100 million more per year than past federal legislation.

"The extra money we're getting in terms of surface transportation will go to maintaining our current assets," he said.

While Reiner said it is a nice increase, it still doesn't fix the budgetary-needs deficit, nor does it fully address inflationary pressures. After bringing in an outside entity to conduct a study on the budget and priorities two years ago, he said he found there is a $350 million annual funding gap between what was provided and what was needed. The department is responsible for more than just road and bridges, including Highway Patrol troopers, emergency communications, airports and driver's licensing.

With the funding from the infrastructure act, WYDOT Chief Financial Officer Dennis Byrne said the department saw a decrease to a $240 million overall unfunded annual need.

Both officials said this means there will likely be fewer projects they are capable of managing with the formula funding, especially since they had to put around 11 on the backburner when they discovered the needs deficit. This is where discretionary funds can provide relief, and Reiner said there are 450 pages of grants available.

"That's what's so different about this highway funding bill that passed is there's a lot of additional infrastructure money in terms of the discretionary grants in the bill," he said.

If the department obtains those funds, some of the goals Reiner hopes to accomplish are reconstructing the Interstate 25-Interstate 80 interchange, developing a winter reroute on I-80, and supporting truck parking and freight movement. Wildlife crossings are also important, and are supported by both the Wyoming Legislature and Gordon's office.

During the Legislature's 2022 budget session, lawmakers approved more than $200 million in matching funds for grant applicants. There was $100 million allocated for energy, $75 million for infrastructure, $25 million for broadband and $10 million for wildlife crossings.


Another difference in the infrastructure act than in previous laws is the additional formula funding for bridges, aeronautics and electric charging stations for vehicles. Reiner said WYDOT received $225 million specifically for addressing bridges outside of the normal budget.

"The federal government recognized that there's a huge issue with our nation's bridges," he said. "They allocated, again by formula, $45 million per year for the next five years."

He explained the caveat is the funding can only go toward bridges that are in critical or poor condition, and 15% of the money must go toward municipalities. State data reveals 218 bridges and over 380 miles of highway in poor condition, and the director said WYDOT has already begun working with local officials to discover which bridges are recommended to fix.

Public transit

Funding for transportation is another key priority under the Biden administration that WYDOT is responsible for, and there are two major possible grants projects.

A bus service between Cheyenne and Fort Collins, Colorado, would help reduce traffic on I-25 and reduce carbon emissions. Reiner said there are similar programs on the west side of the state, where electric buses go between Wyoming and Idaho. It would be a costly program to implement, but it is not considered as long term of an investment as the second.

Creager said the governor's office, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and Laramie County officials have all contemplated a passenger rail system that would run from Wyoming to New Mexico.

"There's been discussion of Cheyenne being kind of a northern hub for a line that would run through Colorado, down to Albuquerque," he said. "That would be a very big project and a long timeline."

Wyoming is also eligible to take part in the Carbon Reduction Program created under the infrastructure law, which helps states develop strategies to address the climate crisis. Reiner said since the program is new this year, his agency has to evaluate the fiscal resources it would take. There is $8.1 million available in fiscal year 2022 for Wyoming, and it is eligible to receive up to $42.2 million over the next five years.

Eligible projects include trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized forms of transportation, as well as projects that support the deployment of alternative-fuel vehicles.

"The new program provides states and local agencies in both urban and rural areas the flexibility and funding needed to reduce emissions and build a more sustainable transportation network that will benefit travelers," Federal Highway Administration Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack said in the program's announcement.

Charging infrastructure is eligible, but WYDOT also received $25 million for electric vehicle charging in additional formula funding. Reiner said the investment truly boils down to supporting purchasing choice.

"The reason choice is important is because of the concept of supporting our state's second-largest economic driver, which is tourism," Reiner said. "And so we know that there's a nice lady in Iowa who has an electric car and who wants to come see some of the great sights in Wyoming. We think it's wise for us to enable her to do that. It's her choice to drive that car."

Broadband and energy

There are other areas the governor's office and state agencies outside of WYDOT are focused on. Broadband access, energy, water infrastructure and environmental conservation efforts are among the priorities that match the Biden administration.

White House officials said this is overdue by decades for Wyoming due to a clear systemic lack of investment, and this will create economic growth.

One of the alignments with the White House and the governor's office is helping residents gain access to reliable internet service. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 8.2% of residents in the state live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure. Nearly 12% of Wyoming households also lack an internet subscription.

To mitigate these issues, the state is set to receive a minimum of $100 million for broadband coverage, and 25% of Wyomingites will be eligible for the U.S.'s affordability connectivity benefit.

"Our hope is that we can get these dollars, put them back in through the Connect Wyoming program that worked well for the state, and worked well for providers," Creager said. "And we can knock out more broadband in the most rural parts."

Energy is among the other infrastructure concentrations. Creager said the governor's office plans to apply for carbon capture and hydrogen hub grants. This is in an effort to invest in technology that helps keep coal-fired power plants active, as well as retain coal, oil and gas jobs. Agencies such as the Wyoming Energy Authority, the Department of Environment Quality and the Office of State Lands will also apply for grants they see as beneficial to the energy industry.

The policy advisor brought attention to the need for updates to water infrastructure, such as the La Prele Dam in Douglas. Engineering firms and the Wyoming Water Development Office said in August they considered the dam at risk of catastrophic failure due to deterioration of its foundational structure.

His office is not the only one assessing the needs for repairing aging water infrastructure in the state. The Biden-Harris administration has confirmed it will fund $6 million through the Department of the Interior for major repairs on the Fort Laramie canal. It is included in the $8.3 billion for water infrastructure projects and $1.4 billion for ecosystem restoration and resilience funding from the infrastructure act.

"As western communities face growing challenges accessing water in the wake of record drought, these investments in our aging water infrastructure will safeguard community water supplies and revitalize water delivery systems," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said when it was announced.

Addressing water infrastructure also involves eliminating lead service lines and pipes, which Wyoming was set to receive $335 million for over five years.

This is still only a small portion of the funding available for agencies to seek out, as well as what's being distributed directly. Formula financing is expected to protect against wildfires, prevent cyberattacks, prepare for extreme weather, improve airports and more.

"Infrastructure: a lot of people think roads, bridges, so on and so forth," Creager said. "But it's so much bigger than that."

Jasmine Hall is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.

This project was developed by the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network and funded through a Cooperative Agreement with U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) funds appropriated by Congress through the CARES Act to assist businesses in recovering from the negative effects of COVID-19. SBDC appreciates ongoing support from the SBA, The Wyoming Business Council, and the University of Wyoming.