15th

University of Wyoming students cross at a busy 15th Street and Ivinson Avenue intersection Thursday in Laramie.

A legislative measure that would start the nine-figure overhaul of the University of Wyoming’s dormitories contains a subsection that’s renewed concerns about a potential closure of 15th Street after the bill was posted Monday to the Legislature’s website.

House Bill 293 would require UW to issue revenue bonds to fund the construction, but it would also appropriate $3.5 million “to provide grants to the city of Laramie to improve traffic efficiency on Ninth Street between Ivinson Avenue and Flint Street and 22nd Street between Grand Avenue and Willett Drive to mitigate any potential impacts created by the restricted access to 15th Street from Ivinson Avenue to Lewis Street necessitated by the construction and implementation of the University of Wyoming student housing project.”

The bill instructs the State Loan and Investment Board to release funding to the city “upon submittal of a proposal and cost estimates by the city for traffic efficiency improvements under this subsection.”

Wyoming House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, is the sponsor of the bill and has previously shown strong interest in closing 15th Street in certain areas.

If the road we closed, north-south traffic from Grand Avenue would be blocked for more than a mile.

When the House Appropriations committee unanimously voted Wednesday to advance the bill, UW trustee John McKinley said fears that the bill is attempting to close 15th Street is the result of “misinformation.”

“If you look closely at the bill, it does not deal with 15th Street at all,” he said.

The purpose of providing grants to the city, he said, are to be “good neighbors.”

“When we build 2,000 replacement beds, there’s going to be impacts on campus,” he said. “We can’t avoid the impacts, but we can lessen them. We’re not closing down 15th Street, but it is going to be impacted.”

Laramie city manager Janine Jordan noted the language of the bill indicates otherwise.

The bill explicitly outlines areas UW is allowed to build dorms on. The perimeter outlined in the bill includes the city’s 15th Street right-of-way. The language of the bill suggests UW could construct dorms on the current location of 15th Street from Bradley Street to Sorority Row.

“If the intention is not to encumber or disrupt 15th Street, I would suggest we could (change) the language in the bill,” Jordan said. “That would assuage a lot of concerns in my community.”

She also said the bill should be revised to clarify how long the city’s right-of-way would be affected.

When the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony on the bill Wednesday, the review began after 9 p.m., well after most legislators had departed for the night and the Jonah Business Center began to quiet.

Jordan and fire chief Dan Johnson stayed in Cheyenne past 10 p.m. to testify.

After McKinley first tried to alleviate concerns about 15th Street, Jordan expressed relief that the trustees have taken a permanent closure “off the table.”

McKinley was quick to clarify.

“That’s not what I said,” he said. “Fifteentth Street is an issue that the city and UW should work on. It’s just not in the bill.”

Johnson said he’s concerned that a permanent closure of 15th Street would have significant impacts on emergency response.

Jordan suggested a number of amendments, including revisions for how the grants to “improve traffic efficiency” should be used.

“It’s unclear to us what we should be doing with that money, and in fact, we do not have plans for how we would use that money to mitigate traffic impacts,” she said.

The SLIB money should first be used to complete a traffic study of the area, she said.

Construction of the project is set to be overseen by an advisory task force. That committee met numerous times throughout the middle of 2018.

Under the bill draft, however, the membership of the committee would shrink to include only legislators, UW trustees and appointees of UW President Laurie Nichols.

Jordan said the committee should also include herself, Laramie’s mayor, and another community member appointed by City Council.

Laramie Mayor Joe Shumway said he’s supportive of Jordan’s proposed amendments and expects state Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, to fight for the amendments to be added into the bill.

Shumway he doesn’t think there’s “any appetite” among council-members or staff to close the street.

“Any closure of 15th is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “If there is any temporary closure, it has to be because there are no other options that are reasonable.”

The 2017 supplemental budget bill included a footnote requiring UW to meet with city council about the “need for vacating 15th Street between East Willett Drive and East Ivinson (Avenue) to unify the campus and protect pedestrian traffic.”

In response, UW and the city hosted four “listening sessions” to solicit public opinion. Residents were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal.

Some fear the dorms bill could be a precursor to legislators coercing the city to vacate the street.

Such action would not be unprecedented.

When construction on the Enzi STEM building was first planned, a temporary closure of Lewis Street was widely expected. UW later called for a permanent closure when they completed engineering work.

In 2011, the Legislature’s budget bill gave $50 million for the future construction of the Enzi STEM building. However, the bill also prevented any construction to take place until “after the city of Laramie has resolved to vacate Lewis street between ninth and fourteenth streets.”

After years of uncertainty on Lewis Street’s future, the city vacated the road in 2014 without receiving an upfront payment.

“This university continues to say ‘we want the city to make concessions and we’re not going to pay for them.’” Shumway said. “I don’t want to go through this again where we think it’s temporary and then becomes permanent. I want to be clear up front that that’s not on the table. They want to have a campus that’s closed off from the community. I don’t even think that’s logical.”

(7) comments

mandatory field

While 15th St could certainly be improved with some traffic calming, a number issues need to be addressed if 15th is to be vacated......

1) How will parking on Fraternity and Sorority Rows be accessed?
2) Will Ivinson Ave end with a cul de sac?
3) How will the City Cemetery be accessed?
4) How will the UW shuttle access campus from the satellite parking lot at 15th and Spring Creek?
5) Will emergency access be diminished to dorms, fraternities and sororities?

clipper

If you spent so much as a minute thinking about it, there's an obvious solution or multiple reasonable options to each of your questions.

Oh Wow

The University seems to be under the impression that they are the sole reason the City of Laramie exists and they can do whatever they please. 15th is a main artery of the entire City. It's ridiculous to even suggest that because the University has a whim to build shiny new dorms that they can close down a major city street. Just so students wouldn't have to walk. Par for the course for this administration though. Decisions seem to be made without properly thinking through all the ramifications of such decisions.

waitasec

UW has always had a strained relationship with the city/county. Unfortunately, without the university, Laramie would dry up and blow away- there is no other industry to support the city. And, since the university only answers to the governor, there isn't much Laramie can do. This is why land grant institutions can be more of a burden than an asset to a small town. They don't even pay property taxes.

Oh Wow

That is true, and I get that; but my point was that the University has a huge ego, so to speak, like they can do whatever they want whenever no matter how it impacts the rest of the city. Seems it would be better to work along with the City to benefit all involved instead of wanting what they want regardless of the consequences to the City that helps support them. Just my opinion :)

waitasec

I agree with you. That would be ideal. Unfortunately, it comes down to money. Laramie, Albany county, and UW are always struggling for money. And, until Wyoming decides to get away from oil/gas as a major source of income and finds viable economic alternatives, the struggle will continue.

clipper

Let me explain an extremely obvious fact to you. The state is putting up the $, thus the state can dictate the terms.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.