WYDOT introduces new "yes" policy


December 13, 2018

The Wyoming Department of Transportation has always made a point to share the details of upcoming construction, Director Bill Panos told the county commissioners last week, but less tends to be said about the other duties of the department. Road construction only makes up half the work of WYDOT, he said, but plenty more is going on around the state.

It’s also rare for the department’s director to visit with staff on the ground and communities, Panos said, but he has made it his goal to visit every county and city in Wyoming before the upcoming legislative session. During those visits, he intends to share information that affects each community and also listen to the needs of local governments.

Panos explained to the commissioners that WYDOT has undergone a cultural change spurred on by its staff, who want to become more of a “yes” agency and less of a “no” one. WYDOT is reaching out to communities to find out what is needed and, instead of turning requests down outright, looking for alternatives, other pots of money, policy changes and so on that would make them possible.

“We’re starting to get out there more and listen and I think it really helps,” he said.

In particular, Panos discussed WyoLink, the emergency communications system. Intended to work alongside each agency’s own communication system, WyoLink was designed to provide an easy way for a fire department, for instance, to speak with sheriff’s office deputies and EMS.

A couple of years ago, said Panos, Govenor Matt Mead called him into his office to talk about the system. What he described was complicated and “a mess, frankly,” Panos said, and the governor tasked him with fixing it.

Panos found that the problems within the WyoLink program could be sorted into three categories: finance, technological and governance. He set up teams to think about each one and set about solving those issues.

For the governance portion, he told the commissioners, he asked the team: “Who is in charge? Who’s responsible?” It turned out that nobody knew – and nobody wanted to take it on.

“That was a very telling thing,” said Panos. He realized that one agency needed to be responsible for it, and that agency is now WYDOT. “The buck stops here.”

For the safety aspect of WyoLink, Panos told the commissioners that a private company, Motorola, turned out to be making most of the decisions about how the program functioned. Panos informed them that they would become a contractor for the state, would need to compete for the contract and would abide by decisions made by the state, and that this was affably accepted by the company.

Panos also looked internally to see if it would be achievable for the state to make its own tech decisions, he said, and has assembled the best team possible.

Finally, regarding financing, Panos explained that the program is split into three aspects: capitalization, modernization and operations and maintenance. The first question he asked on capitalization, he said, was, “Are we done?”

It turned out that the answer was no, but that the legislature had not planned to add more towers due to the expense. Panos was able to negotiate with federal bodies to obtain $20 million for 20 new towers and said the state will finally be able to see how well the system functions once they are sited.

“You guys will never pay for that,” he stressed, explaining that another aspect of his work has been to investigate the fees charged to governmental bodies for the service. He has been able to reduce this already by 40 percent, he said, after deducing that the number was originally set by Motorola.

“I’m trying to get it to zero, I’m just not there yet,” he said.

One of the new towers, Panos shared, will be in this area, providing better coverage for Crook County’s first responders using the WyoLink system.

The biggest issue going forward will be modernizing the system, said Panos. Just like a utility, you’re never done paying for the system, and he will be looking at the best way to do that for the state and its communities.

As is customary, Panos did also share information about upcoming road project for the year ahead, stating that there are 18 projects going on right now in the county and 19 just beginning.

Among the projects this coming year are mag chloride for county roads; the Arch Creek bridge replacement, which is under contract and due to begin in March or April; five miles of rehabilitation on I-90; and 19 miles of pavement rehabilitation on the D Road, which is due to be let in January.

Future projects include airport pavement improvements and $6.5 million in pavement rehabilitation on roads between Sundance and Moorcroft.


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