Casper: to sprawl or not to sprawl?

CASPER, Wyo. — To sprawl or not to sprawl?

That is the question a consultant for the Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization suggests people thinking about future growth in the area should contemplate.

Paul Moore is principal for Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates who is helping the MPO identify possible priority projects for their upcoming Long Range Transportation Plan.

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He says that which projects should receive priority depends on how community leaders want to encourage growth in the Casper area.

Moore says that there are some benefits to steering the community toward a more compact growth plan. It would keep driving times down and make biking and walking more feasible as transportation options for citizens in the Casper area.

Casper Mayor Charlie Powell asked Moore during his presentation at City Hall on Tuesday, July 23 how community organizers could encourage that.

“It can be a political challenge,” Moore told him.

He said that careful zoning policies can be put in place to encourage greater density of development. That may be controversial if land owners want to make their properties available to people looking to build spacious residential areas.

Moore added that zoning rules can also be used to encourage things like multiple story apartments or housing with more modest yard space. He pointed to North Casper as an example of an area that the City of Casper could look at.

Controlling where they add sewer extensions is another way that planners can discourage sprawl, according to Moore.

The MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan is meant to coordinate project planning between all of the Casper area communities, including Mills, Bar Nunn, Evansville and the county.

Moore said it is also important for local governments to communicate with the Wyoming Department of Transportation as they plan road and other projects moving forward.

If community leaders are less concerned with controlling sprawl in the long term, that would suggest that a different set of projects should be prioritized.

Projects that extend or add roadways toward the edges of Casper should be a greater priority if the community wants to facilitate a more spread out development path.

But if officials think it would be better to control that sprawl, Moore says it would make more sense to prioritize projects that improve connectivity in the existing area.

The MPO’s “Connecting Crossroads” survey has been generating feedback from people in the community about what they see as most important for transportation.

Courtesy of the Casper area MPO

Safety has been among the things people say is most important.

Additionally, people want “Clear, simple options,” according to Moore.

Moore says that putting funds toward projects to improve busy intersection crossing for pedestrians may be something leaders want to make a priority.

He suggested some ideas for how to go about that. Moore says that some of these ideas are more expensive than others.

The most dangerous intersection in Casper is at CY Avenue and Wyoming Boulevard, he said.

While the project would be expensive, Moore said that leaders may want to consider constructing a bridge at that intersection to improve safety. It would also help improve trail connectivity for bikers and pedestrians, facilitating a more enhanced connection between the Morad Park trail and the west side Walmart and Wolf Creek area.

If this project is seen as too expensive, Moore said projects to help shorten street crossings at busy intersections could be considered. Some ideas for that include adding “bump-outs” to sidewalks to make it easier to cross wide intersections such as those along Wyoming Boulevard.

Moore said that some things may be counter-intuitive when it comes to transportation. He said people often think that widening roads will reduce congestion, but that this isn’t necessarily the case.

As drivers become accustomed to widened roadways, it can actually increase traffic along those routes.

Should leaders wish to encourage a more compact growth model, Moore said they should think about projects that encourage “multi-modal” transportation use.

That can include adding things like bike lanes, separating the lanes from traffic where possible to improve safety. Improving roadway crossings along bike routes is another thing Moore suggested leaders consider.

If a compact growth model is the priority, Moore said that funding for some projects may want to be scaled back. Instead of putting funds toward outer roadways, those dollars could support projects that improve some of the connectivity ideas he was discussing.

But he said it was probably best to strike a balance. While safety and connectivity projects could be given first priority, outer loop road projects could still be given some attention over a longer time frame.

He said that in the MPO’s previous plan, outer loop projects accounted for about a third of the transportation budget, suggesting this could be scaled back, especially when funding is scarce.

Some of the growth modeling MPO and the consultant conducted were based off projecting that Casper would add 21,000 people over the next 50-60 years.

Moore said that the final Long Range Transportation Plan will eventually recommend priority projects in 5 year increments.

About 400 people have already taken the MPO’s survey, but it is still open to anyone who wants to provide feedback.

Moore said that next steps include eliciting feedback as to whether people prefer a more compact or sprawl growth scenario. Then, MPO would and the consultants would work to develop an action plan.

The final Long Range Tranportation Plan would be ready in a few months.