The facts about Park County’s road priorities

Submitted by Brian Edwards
Posted 4/15/21

Dear Editor:

This letter is provided to clarify, correct and respond to the misinformation outlined by Mr. David Keister in a letter to the editor dated April 6.

As I stated in a past similar …

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The facts about Park County’s road priorities

Posted

Dear Editor:

This letter is provided to clarify, correct and respond to the misinformation outlined by Mr. David Keister in a letter to the editor dated April 6.

As I stated in a past similar response to a different Keister letter, I find it ironic that one of our largest complainers about the conditions of the roads up the South Fork continues to say we are wasting money to improve it.

Since we started work on Phase 1 of the South Fork project a few years ago, the large majority (if not all) of the negative comments we have received came from Mr. Keister. Meanwhile, the large majority of residents, agencies, recreational groups and general Park County citizens that I have spoken to have been overwhelmingly supportive.

Mr. Keister seems to imply the South Fork Road only serves “a very few ranchers and resorts who do not even live here much of the year.” This is simply not true. Traffic data indicates 600 to 800 vehicles per day utilize the stretch of road in the proposed Phase 2 project, and it’s one of the busiest county roads.

Mr. Keister is correct that roughly 85% of the Phase 1 project and about the same on the proposed Phase 2 is being paid with federal dollars through the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP). What he does not mention is that the dollars are only available for certain roads that access federal lands. The truth is that if Park County does not seize the opportunity to utilize the FLAP dollars they will be used elsewhere in Wyoming and possibly out of state.

Park County was successful in securing FLAP money in large part due to the tremendous support provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, various recreation groups and the general public. These entities recognize the importance of the South Fork Road to the people of Park County and all those who access these unique and special public lands.

Park County has identified County Road 6WX (South Fork Road) and several others for major improvements as part of our five-year plan. This plan is updated each year based on road inspection data, needs, input from citizens and a collaborative assessment of priorities by the Public Works Department. The decisions as to which roads/bridges to improve ultimately rests with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

It is worth noting that the BOCC has only voted to apply for funds and to proceed with the scoping effort on Phase 2. This represents a $10,000 commitment by Park County ($50,000 will be paid using federal dollars). Upon completion of the scoping effort, the BOCC will have the opportunity to evaluate the findings and decide whether the project is in the best interest of the citizens of Park County.

Mr. Keister claims the county has already “scaled back from grading and upkeep of gravel roads” due to COVID-19 and budget cuts. The fact is the cuts made in recent years to help balance the budget were mainly geared toward paved roads. Park County has not reduced or “scaled back” the maintenance of gravel roads.

We recognize we have many miles of gravel roads that do not meet county standards. We continue to work on this as weather conditions, materials and resources allow. 

In Mr. Keister’s letter, he asks, “If the county is going to go after supporting federal funds, why not go after matching funds to fix all the dirt roads and streets in the county …?”

The truth is we are already doing this. My office applies for and receives funds through several programs, including the High Risk Rural Road (HRRR), Transportation Alternatives (TAP), Bridges Off System (BROS), and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) programs.

The Willwood Dam bridge project, the bridge on Hunter Creek Road and others were financed through the BROS program, whereby roughly 90% of the funding came from outside Park County.

My office has applied for and secured roughly $300,000 over the past three years under the CMAQ program. Last summer, gravel roads in the Wood River area (Road 4DT), Greybull River (Road 4EU) and other roads in the Powell area were improved under the program.

Park County also utilizes Secure Rural Schools (Title I and III) federal dollars. Over the past few summers, road and bridge crews have worked on improving the road up in Sunlight Basin using Title III funds. Gravel roads in the Clark area will be improved this summer using CMAQ dollars.

We try to capitalize on these programs on behalf of the people of Park County whenever we can.

Mr. Keister states that the commissioners should be “prepared for pushback from the public on the priorities for the county.” The decisions to apply for funds to improve the South Fork have been openly discussed in public meetings, as widely reported by the media. Oddly, I do not recall seeing Mr. Keister at any of the public meetings where the roads, bridges, budgets or priorities were discussed.

The statement was made by Mr. Keister that “few people wanted or thought there was a need for the first South Fork project …” Although 85% of the funds were derived from the FLAP program, much of the county’s match was derived from the 1% special purpose tax. In other words, the Phase 1 project was voted on and approved by Park County voters. Again, Mr. Kiester’s perception of reality is lacking context.

In summary, we live in a world where misinformation can be quickly perceived as reality if left unchecked. Fortunately, the citizens of Park County are smart enough to know when someone clearly has a personal agenda or an “ax to grind.”

My office, with the support of the BOCC, will continue to look for ways to spread your tax dollars further while returning the maximum value to the citizens of Park County.

Sincerely,

Brian Edwards 

Park County Engineer, Cody

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