The Carbon County Board of Commissioners has been pursuing funding for the reconstruction of the West Fork Road for many years. Efforts have been made to have the West Fork Road and Ski Run Roads reclassified as a State Secondary Road, be designated as a Forest Highway, and funded under the Public Lands Highway Discretionary Grant (PLHD) program.
The West Fork Road was designated as a Forest Highway in 2009 and 2011, and was approved for funding in January of 2012. A Forest Highway Project Agreement was entered into with the US Department of Transportation FWHA, the Forest Service, and Carbon County in June of 2012. The project construction was funded at $5,500,000 and scheduled to start in 2014.
However, the 112th U.S. Congress, on July 6th, 2012, passed the new transportation legislation, MAP 21. This new transportation bill removed language regarding the Forest Highway program, and replaced it with the Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP). The FLTP would provide funding for the West Fork Road, BUT, there is now a local match requirement of 13.42% for the West Fork Road reconstruction project. Carbon County will now have to come up with $738,100 to proceed with this project at the current design criteria. There is no way that we can come up with this match on our own.
I have been working hard with Senator Baucus staff, the Montana Association of Counties, Senator Jason Priest, and Representative Joanne Blyton, to resolve this issue.
Mark Hybner with Senator Baucus staff has been very helpful in trying to get a technical amendment to MAP-21 to state that the funds for the West Fork Road were obligated under the old law, and is assisting Carbon County in finding other transportation funding sources such as the Federal Lands Highways Program. This program has very limited funding that will be competitively distributed on a nationwide basis. We have been advised that Carbon County would not likely be considered for this funding until 2015.
The Montana Association of Counties was able to argue that the West Fork Road should be listed first under the Federal Lands Access Program so we are still scheduled for a 2014 construction date, but will have to enter into a new Project Agreement that includes our commitment for the 13.42% match.
The Carbon County Board of Commissioners has sent a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation requesting that they perform another Functional Reclassification of the West Fork Road so that it is classified as a State Secondary Road. The Western Federal Lands Division of the FWHA is authorized to spend up to $400,000 on continued engineering work, and are near 60% final design.
Representative Blyton and Senator Priest are working to get some state funding to assist us in providing the match funds. They will need support from the residents of Carbon County.
I am asking that the residents of Carbon County that recognize the importance of the West Fork Road as access to public lands, the Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area, and the 260 homes that rely on this road on a daily basis, contact any other legislators or businesses to gain support for State funding and provide support for and assist Senator Priest and Representative Joanne Blyton.
A public meeting regarding the West Fork Road is tentatively scheduled for the first week of February. We will let you know when and where, and hope that anyone interested in the reconstruction of the West Fork Road is able to participate.