Laramie’s City Council hosted a community work session at Linford Elementary School on Thursday to listen to public input and answer any questions about paving options for the gravel roads in West Laramie. The session was well attended, and many people working and living in West Laramie had strong opinions about how the roads should be paved, and who should pay for it.
Currently, the projected cost for maintaining Laramie’s roads is $27.25 million over the next 10 years if no changes are made, according to the city. An estimated $71-91 million is needed to make improvements. As much as 8.2 percent, or 17 miles, of roads in Laramie are unpaved, and City Manager Janine Jordan said previous funds used to pave roads like Snowy Range Road in West Laramie are no longer available.
“With the cuts in state funding, with the elimination of the state grant funding program, the city itself is very strapped to address not only converting gravel roads, but also taking care of the paved roads and not letting them deteriorate,” Jordan said.
Jordan added the city has vamped up its efforts beginning in 2007 and spent $20 million over the last 10 years to pave roads and install underground storm mains around West Laramie. She added the recently passed sixth penny tax will help put $1.5 million into paving and maintaining roads over the next 10 years. There are different ways the roads could be paved, including ribbon paving (just travel lanes), ribbon paving with sidewalk, and a full street with curb, sidewalk and gutter. However, each roadway has its own price tag, and it’s not cheap — the sixth penny funds aren’t enough to cover what the city lost in one-time funds from the state.
“We’ve made significant progress in the last decade,” Jordan said. “Half of the streets in this neighborhood are paved, that was not the case 10 years ago. So, we’ve made progress, but it’s been slow.”
The city proposed a faster way to fund paving the streets by having members of communities in West Laramie vote to form a Local Improvement District (LID) which is a way for a neighborhood to apply for loans or bonds to help the city pay for local improvements, including paving the streets. Residents vote to set a district boundary for the LID to which their votes and money applies. Jordan explained that LIDs are commonly used for infrastructure upgrades in existing developments around the country, including in Sheridan.
The city presented rough estimates of citizens’ contribution costs calculated based on number of feet of property line touching a gravel roadway. The estimated cost to convert gravel road to a ribbon paved surface for a property with 84 linear feet of lot frontage is $14,028. Many citizens at the meeting were upset about the prospect of paying for the roadways and the costs to do so.
“It gets extremely expensive to pave these,” said Michael Sisneros, owner of Rocky Mountain Contracting. “I for instance have enough here that it’ll probably cost me about $80,000-$100,000. … One of the things that happens is, its cost prohibitive to be able to do all the infrastructure that’s necessary and then sell those lots and make any profit at all whatsoever, so you’re going to have a lot of people that have these large lots that are going to be financially strapped.”
Klaus Halbsgut, a longtime resident of West Laramie, said he felt it was unfair that other citizens in Laramie, including him, didn’t have to pay for their paved streets, and added streets should be looked at as a priority for attracting new businesses.
“I’ve heard fairness mentioned a couple of times,” said Klaus, owner of Import Auto Repair in West Laramie. “We have people who live out here that have gotten roads without having to pay for it. You’ve been presenting options where people that don’t have (pavement) will have to pay for it. And if you’re going to ask these people who live on dirt roads to pay $30,000 or whatever when other people have gotten it for free, I think you’re not doing in fairness what needs to be done. … I doubt very much the people on the other side of town, when they got new water mains and so forth, had to put any money towards that. So, I think you need to be consistent.”
Jordan said the City Council has had five work sessions over the summer to research and calculate the information contained in brochures, and there are two variables in the equation: time and money.
“I’ll be candid with you, this is a time-money equation,” Jordan said. “Not just converting gravel roads, but also taking care of our paved roads. … So, the question is, what do you want to do, and how fast do we want to do it? And the faster we want to do it, then maybe it makes it more imminent that we form partnerships. If we want to just plod away slowly and let the city do it little by little by little, it could take 20 years, but we have been working at it and we will continue to do so.”
Both Jordan and Mayor Andi Summerville stressed the city hasn’t made any decisions yet, and City Council cannot require West Laramie to form a LID or to pay any amount for the roads.
“The city can’t force a property improvement district on you; only you can vote for that,” Jordan said. “If folks don’t want to contribute, if property owners don’t, nobody can force you to do that.”
Many, including Halbsgut, said during the work session the city should have paved the streets when West Laramie was first annexed into Laramie in the 1960s, and expressed their feeling that the city failed to provide something already promised to them. Jordan said providing paved streets was not in the court order for the annexation.
The survey and public input are an important part of the decision-making process about the roads, Summerville said. More surveys will be available during the next community work session about paving the roads in West Laramie from 3-5 p.m. today at Linford Elementary School. The council asked that the public fill out the survey about road paving options, either at the meeting or online at www.cityoflaramie.org/1015/Street-Financing-Public-Dialogue-Problem. Even if community members cannot attend the meeting, they can fill out the anonymous survey online.