The Wyoming Legislature directed the University of Wyoming to begin discussions with the city of Laramie about the possibility of making major changes to a heavily traveled roadway that crosses campus.
As part of the section of the Legislature’s budget bill pertaining to UW, lawmakers want to see consultations with the city underway to address a perceived need to vacate motor traffic from 15th Street between Willett Drive and Ivinson Avenue “to unify the campus and protect pedestrian traffic.”
Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, showed particular interest in seeing such an initiative move forward, said Chris Boswell, UW vice president of governmental and community affairs.
“The Speaker wanted to press forward with some further discussions, and this was the vehicle that was used to encourage those discussions,” Boswell said. “He’s been very interested in pedestrian safety in the area, especially between the dorms, fraternities and sororities, the College of Business and (Wyoming) Union area, and also the crossing at Willett (Drive).”
During a 2009 presentation about UW’s long-range planning, design firm MIG told an audience at the Wyoming Union that about 3,000-4,000 pedestrian crossings occur on 15th Street every day as students cross from the residence halls or Fraternity and Sorority Row. Requests for more recent information was not available before deadline Wednesday.
The bill directs UW to deliver a report to the Joint Appropriations Committee no later than Nov. 1 on its findings. No funding is provided for the project.
“It’s an initial step,” Boswell said. “It doesn’t require anything more than a conversation and a report.”
Laramie Mayor Andi Summerville and Boswell both said such a project would require collaboration between the city and UW. Representatives from UW and the Laramie City Council previously discussed the roadway during January 2016 meetings to address a reconstruction of Ivinson Avenue between Ninth and 15th streets.
Summerville said she expects city representatives will meet with UW, but wants to make sure community members concerns are a part of the discussions.
“It’s really going to be important to bring up all the significant challenges that are going to come with that from the community as a whole, including UW,” she said.
Without 15th Street open to traffic between Willet Drive and Grand Avenue, Summerville said motorists would be forced to divert as far west as Ninth Street and east to 22nd Street to travel north or south. Besides the convenience of motorists and the strain that could be put on other north-south roadways, she said public safety is a significant concern.
“How do you get fire trucks into that area if that’s no longer a street, or will you be able to allow for that kind of stuff?” Summerville asked. “Getting rid of 15th Street would have a major impact on city of Laramie traffic patterns.”
Boswell said a variety of possible ideas have been suggested, including installing overpasses or tunnels for pedestrians along the roadway. However, with UW and Laramie still struggling with recent cuts in state funding, plans for the much-needed Ivinson Avenue reconstruction are already delayed several years. Adding expensive features such as pedestrian overpasses or tunnels to 15th Street could be out of reach for both entities without outside help, Summerville said.
“So, you could (go to the Joint Appropriations Committee and) say, ‘This is the pie in the sky idea that would make everything great, we want to do a tunnel or overpass. By the way, it’s going to cost X amount of dollars. This is the ideal — are you willing to support it and help us fund it?’” she said. “Obviously, UW and the city of Laramie are not in a position to spend exorbitant amount of funds for those improvements right now.”
Before the Ivinson Avenue reconstruction project was tentatively put on hold, conceptual modifications were drawn up for 15th Street that Summerville said could be presented as alternatives to closing the roadway to motor traffic. Laramie consulting firm Trihydro presented a plan that would include lanes for bikes and motor vehicle traffic along 15th Street.
“Those types of improvements are already in the Ivinson project plan, and we can present that to say, ‘This is already vetted out and we think these will make improvements,’” Summerville said.
As meetings begin taking place regarding changes to the 15th Street corridor, Summerville said it would be critical to gather public input to present to the Legislature. But she said it’s important for residents to understand any significant changes to the roadway are several years down the road.
“We’re not putting out cones tomorrow,” Summerville said. “It’s not a done deal by any respect.”