In January 2020, the Casper, Wyo., Area Metropolitan Planning Organization presented a long-range transportation plan to local governing committees. This presentation was the culmination of two years of work dedicated to creating this 30-year plan, named Connecting Crossroads.
In total, Connecting Crossroads contains over 60 projects an estimated cost of $917 million.
Renee Hardy, Casper Area MPO technician, explained creating the LRTP is a requirement for MPOs to receive federal funding. The Casper Area MPO has gone through this process multiple times, beginning in 1997.
But, instead of just attempting to fulfill the funding requirements, the MPO works hard to ensure the plan goes above and beyond to create the best plan possible. One of the ways the organization does this is by relying heavily on public input when creating the plan.
“The MPO has done a good job of really engaging with not only the residents in Casper but also the surrounding communities in the Casper Metro, and has really kind of gone above and beyond,” said Aaron Kloke, former Casper MPO supervisor. “I think that’s probably most important and what this project is all about, is really engaging with the residents, engaging with all the stakeholders and really getting an idea of what kind of transportation system is going to positively impacts the community.”
To ensure everyone has a chance to give their input, the Casper MPO created a website for the project — www.connectingcrossraods.com — hosted three sets of meetings and workshops, set up information booths at local events and created a public survey to gather more input. Additionally, the Casper MPO hosted coffee talks for developers to come to on a regular basis to hear updates on the plan.
“Survey results and input from attendees at our events was used in almost every step of the process from developing the goals to reprioritizing projects based on community and user interest — or opposition,” said Hardy. “More specifically, we added the word ‘easy’ to one of our project goals after our first set of workshops and events since we continually heard that many people were just as interested in ease of use as they were in affordability or a decrease in travel time.”
Another way the Casper MPO got the community involved was by creating a citizen’s guide. The full LRTP is around 200 pages long, but there is a summarized, 10-page version that allows the public to get a condensed view of the whole plan.
When it came to drafting the specific projects, the Casper MPO, along with a consultant team from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, focused on two main criteria. First, the team pinpointed projects that had already been started or had already received funding, including those within the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan or the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Plan. From there, the team concentrated on projects that increased the safety and mobility for everyone using the transportation system.
During the planning process, each proposed project was scored and divided into low, medium and high priority projects. The scoring criteria included elements such as network connectivity, ADA accessibility, access to community assets, parking impacts, maintenance responsibility and more.
The project with the highest priority was the reconstruction of Midwest Avenue. This project is currently in phase II of reconstruction.
“This series of three phases along Midwest Avenue meets each and every goal of the LRTP and will set a precedent in the city for complete streets concepts,” said Hardy. “We will be providing a safe and sound way for people who walk or bike to travel to and through downtown, improving safety on the road with better sight distances and wider roads, improving safety throughout the neighborhood with better lighting and landscaping, and generally making travel through downtown via all modes much, much easier. In addition, this road is part of our Old Yellowstone District. This is an area of recent redevelopment that has brought not only new businesses and restaurants to the area but also includes open space and event venues, all enhancing the city’s character and growing our economy.”
Other projects set to begin work in 2021 include the reconstruction of Interstate 25 through Casper, the reconstruction of a high-traffic intersection at Poplar and First streets near the Mills and Casper boundary and the redesign and reconstruction of Lathrop Road in Evansville.
Kloke explained a lot of the LRTP’s success is through choosing a good consulting agency. The Casper MPO has a procurement policy it uses when selecting contractors, which includes creating a request for proposals and interviews of interested agencies.
“Especially with a budget of this size, we don’t take procurement lightly. We’re using federal funds, using taxpayer dollars, we want to make the best decision,” said Kloke. “Ultimately, we’re selecting a group of people to be a part of our team for the next year.”
The Casper MPO chose Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates based on its breadth of experience working on LRTPs and its innovative approach to transportation solutions.
When it comes to other ways MPOs can make creating plans an easier process, Hardy suggested building flexibility into timelines.
“The biggest challenge for the MPO during the project was most certainly timing. We ended up authoring two contract extensions during the course of it,” said Hardy. The first was just because we didn’t allow for enough time to finish a project of this magnitude … and the second was to allow for our required 40-day public comment period, which was not written into the original scope.”
Also, it helps to get every entity possible involved in the process.
“Make sure your member entities and agencies are on board,” said Hardy. “Ours are very cooperative and motivated to build and grow, and that made the process very easy on us. If this might be an issue for another MPO or organization, start right away keeping them involved and engaged.”