AASHTO Journal, 22 May 2015
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead urged transportation agency officials from across the country to continue to push Congress to approve long-term federal funding for transportation infrastructure projects.
Mead made the remarks May 15 to the board of directors of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, as they met in Cheyenne, Wyo., for their annual spring policy and business meeting.
“I see a need on the federal side – not just funding, but predictability of funding,” Mead said.
Mead is in his second term as governor of the nation’s 10th-largest state in geographic size, but the least populated. And Mead said that makes national transportation policy especially important for his administration.
The director of Wyoming’s Department of Transportation, John Cox – who is also AASHTO’s current-year president – has made a similar point in remarks to Congress. Cox has said Wyoming’s vast highway mileage is heavily used by interstate trucks in the national freight supply chain, but with a small population the state cannot generate enough revenue from its own residents to cover its infrastructure needs.
So while Wyoming’s Legislature passed a motor fuel user charge increase in 2013 to boost the state’s own spending on highways, state officials say a strong federal funding program is vital to helping such rural states maintain a system that is important to the national economy.
Mead told state DOT chiefs at the AASHTO conference that “with a rural state like Wyoming, we are on the roads a lot and we drive a lot.”
He also said one of his goals as governor was to be as fiscally conservative as possible, but found that meant investing in infrastructure improvements now to head off much higher replacement costs in the future.
“To be fiscally conservative on roads, you take care of roads,” said Mead. That’s why, Mead said, he supported raising the state’s motor fuel fees by 10 cents a gallon in 2013, an increase that is expected to generate an additional $71.8 million annually for Wyoming state and local roads.
Mead said Wyoming faced mounting preservation and maintenance needs, and he felt the state should do its part to make critical investments. Wyoming focused its transportation investments on support for commerce, public safety, and recreation, he said.
But Mead said Congress needs to also do its part to fund the federal program.
“We believe in Wyoming that it is the right thing to do,” said Mead. “I believe it is the right thing for the states to do and the right thing for the federal government do … We’ve got work to do in our country and in our collective states.”
WYDOT Director Cox introduced the governor to the AASHTO gathering, and described Mead as a leader who has focused on accountability, responsibility and streamlining state government. “From my perspective, he has brought what I view as a distinct CEO perspective,” Cox said.
Mead said the business-like approach to transportation funding sometimes requires “thinking big,” but that “we don’t think big like that as much these days. We don’t recognize that while there is a cost to doing these things, there’s a cost of not doing it.” It’s time for the federal government to commit to investing with long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding, he said.