Power is Out

March 22, 2007

Wyoming has an abundance of coal and natural gas, but it doesn’t take an expert to see the effects of a serious energy crunch.

All one has to do is drive the roads of the state, which have been in steady decline over the last few years. With gas prices soaring, more are turning to other natural resources, which are packed in the crust of the state of Wyoming. The increase in mining has only increased truck traffic, and the surge in weight has hit the road network hard.

Wyoming has an abundance of coal and natural gas, but it doesn’t take an expert to see the effects of a serious energy crunch.

All one has to do is drive the roads of the state, which have been in steady decline over the last few years. With gas prices soaring, more are turning to other natural resources, which are packed in the crust of the state of Wyoming. The increase in mining has only increased truck traffic, and the surge in weight has hit the road network hard.

The pavement on 27% of the state’s highway miles are in poor condition, marking the highest percentage in the category since the Wyoming DOT (WYDOT) began a pavement rating and management system 20 years ago. In 2000, just 15% of the state’s highway pavement was in poor condition, 23% was fair and over 60% was in either good or excellent condition. Today just under 50% is above average.

The story turns more nightmarish at the secondary highway level, where 41% is in poor condition.

“Increased wear on our pavements from heavier traffic and big increases in truck traffic on I-80 and highways in the energy-boom areas has prevented us from keeping up with all the work that is needed,” said Rick Harvey, state materials engineer for WYDOT.

Harvey said the downward trend started in 2001, when rising construction costs and flat or shrinking revenues began to make it increasingly difficult for the agency to do all the projects needed to keep pavement in good condition. The cost to do road construction business in Wyoming doubled from 1998 to 2005, and inflation so far this year has been labeled as “off the charts.”

Financial aid at the federal level has been dwindling for the state of Wyoming. In fact, WYDOT is expected to receive about $27 million less in federal aid than was projected at the beginning of FY 2006. Adding to the pinch is the decreased limit on how much federal funding can be used on projects. In the past, Wyoming and other states have been authorized to obligate 95% of their annual apportionment. This year only 85% is authorized.

In 2005, the state gave WYDOT $75 million from the general fund, marking the first time the agency received such a bonus.

“They have started responding to the needs of our road system, but we really haven’t requested any money from the general fund,” Dave Kinghan, spokesman for WYDOT, told Roads & Bridges.

The state legislature’s revenue committee has discussed a proposal to increase the fuel tax by five cents a gal. Kinghan, however, doesn’t think the public will be very sympathetic to a state agency that could be the beneficiary of a $1 billion surplus.

“Because of all of this mineral and energy development, we have had a large surplus of revenues,” he said. “How receptive people are going to be to an increase in fuel tax is questionable.

“It seems to us that the legislators seem to appreciate the importance of the highway system and appreciate the fact that we have been lucky enough to have a pretty high-quality system,” Kinghan added. “At this point they seem receptive to helping us out with funding.”

Save for rainy day

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, the vast majority of states have reported saving an average of 10% of their budgets, one of the highest percentages of unspent money in decades, the Washington Post reported.

According to a report recently released by the National Conference of State Legislators, the $57 billion in unexpected revenue has afforded states an opportunity to find creative ways to spend and save their cash.

New Mexico has seemingly targeted the most unconventional project to spend its money: a launch pad for future commuter orbital excursions, the Washington Post reported. Nationally, the state’s surplus money is a 25% increase from the previous fiscal year and a welcome boost after a five-year slump.

Other states have earmarked the money for one-time expenditures, or they are using it to bolster revenues and rainy-day funds, the Post reported. Education has been the largest recipient, with 24 states sending money to kindergarten-through-12th-grade education and 20 states sending money to higher education, according to the report.

Alaska invested $300 million into its Public Education Fund and had another $300 million to place in a new reserve fund, the Washington Post reported. Wyoming used its surplus for natural resources, while New Mexico placed $40 million of its $800 million windfall into its Water Trust Fund and Oklahoma invested money into cancer and diabetes centers.

A number of other states chose to save money in rainy-day funds. Maryland put away $593 million and Connecticut added $440 million to its rainy-day fund, according to the Washington Post. Georgia also put away $430 million for a rainy day.

Nationwide, state lawmakers have been struggling with budgets since the 2001 terrorist attacks triggered an economic downturn. After several years of quickly declining revenues, states were planning conservatively based on scaled-back expenditures, according to the Post. Even as revenues started to climb, states were reluctant to count on the money and based their budgets on lesser income. As a result, all but five states—Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan and Wisconsin—reported surpluses, the Washington Post reported.

In Montana, however, steep increases in the cost of asphalt, cement and diesel fuel are driving up highway construction and maintenance costs, forcing some projects to be delayed, Montana’s Transportation Director Jim Lynch said.

According to Lynch, the Montana Department of Transportation has no option but to delay projects. Not many projects have been postponed, he said, and there are no plans to drop any projects.

However, more projects originally slated for 2007 and 2008 could be delayed unless the cost of construction materials drop or the state receives more money, the Montana Billings Gazette reported.

Safer and easier

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will soon be completing a highway construction project that will improve driver safety and convenience.

The Rickreall Interchange Project at the intersections of Oregon 22 with highways 99W and 223 north of Monmouth is just a few months from completion and will provide motorists safer and easier travel from the coast through the Willamette Valley.

ODOT design and construction teams addressed a complex set of challenges, including traffic-safety issues at the intersection of Highway 22 with Highway 99W and crossing from Highway 22 to Highway 223 across opposing traffic, the Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal reported.

The $16 million interchange, built by McMinnville contractor Oregon Mainline, eliminates these safety concerns by separating the traffic with bridges and by adding a concrete median barrier along Oregon 22 to reduce crossover collisions within the interchange area, according to the newspaper.

Filing for bankruptcy

Canadian skid-steer and mini excavator manufacturer Thomas Equipment Inc. is preparing its manufacturing subsidiary for bankruptcy proceedings. The company has laid off 141 employees and engaged a consultant to investigate potential investors, buyers or merger candidates.

On Aug. 17, Thomas said that its wholly owned subsidiary, Thomas Equipment 2004, which manufactures the company’s skid-steer loaders, mini excavators and agriculture machinery at a plant in New Brunswick, Canada, would start court-supervised restructurings and file for bankruptcy. The subsidiary’s parent company and other sister firms are not part of the bankruptcy filing.

In addition to selling its products under its own brand, Thomas supplies mini skid steers to Hyundai and has recently begun manufacturing a range of telehandlers for an Asian construction equipment manufacturer.

Drunken-driving crackdown

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mid-August released new state-by-state and national data for 2005 drawn from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The data shows that alcohol-impaired driving remains an extremely severe problem. Last year alone there were 16,885 alcohol-related fatalities in traffic crashes, a figure nearly unchanged during the past decade.

Acting Secretary of Transportation Maria Cino announced that the U.S. DOT was launching a massive media and enforcement crackdown through Labor Day to include thousands of police agencies throughout the U.S. to deal with the problem of drunken driving. She added that the department is investing $11 million in a new campaign, “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest,” which will be the largest advertising blitz ever used to combat drunken driving.

“Drunk driving is one of America’s deadliest crimes,” said Cino. “Our message is simple: If you drive drunk, you will be arrested.”

The drunken-driving data provides new details that will help police and NHTSA tackle the problem, according to Cino. She noted that in 2005, 39% of all traffic deaths involved alcohol. However, she did add that 23 states and Puerto Rico showed a decrease in the number of alcohol-related fatalities between 2004 and 2005.

“Alcohol and automobiles are a lethal combination,” said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason. “That is why we are working closely with our law enforcement and national advocacy partners to get even tougher on drunk drivers.”

The new TV, radio and web ads, in both English and Spanish, will run nationally on programs viewed primarily by 21- to 34-year-old males.

According to the data released, the highest percentage of drivers in alcohol-related fatal crashes was for male drivers ages 21 to 34 (33%), followed by males ages 35 to 44 (25%).

Industry guide

The latest directory to the government sector of the transportation industry has been published by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). The 2006 Transportation Officials & Engineers Directory (TO&E) provides address, phone and fax information for over 6,000 county, state and federal employees. E-mail and Internet contact information also is provided if available.

Offered as a pocket-size publication or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, the directory includes key listings for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as well as information on national transportation design and construction organizations and key transportation leaders in the U.S. Congress.

The directory can be ordered for $195 (ARTBA members) or $249 (non-members). The Excel spreadsheet is available for $395 (ARTBA members) or $475 (non-members). Send a check or money order, plus an additional $11 for shipping and handling, to: ARTBA, 1219 28th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20007, or call ARTBA’s Christy Woodall at 888/821-9653.

The publication also can be purchased online by clicking on the Newest Products section of www.artbastore.org.

—edited by Stephanie Harris


Roads & Bridges incorrectly listed the web addresses of American Highway Products and the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI) in the product portfolio section of the July issue. The correct web address for American Highway Products is www.ahp1.com. The correct web address for CRSI is www.crsi.org.

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