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May 22, 2015

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Committee weighs bill that would remove state transportation overseers

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Courtesy Julie Duewel / Nevada Department of Transportation

Traffic is seen Jan. 13, 2011, on Interstate 15 in a construction zone for the Interstate 15 South Design-Build South Project.

Constructing the $600 million freeway between Reno and Carson City sticks in the craw of Clark County officials who maintain the highway needs of Southern Nevada are being ignored.

Several witnesses told the Senate Finance Committee today that the governor and three other elective officials need to be kicked off the state Transportation Board and control shifted to Clark County.

Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the bill overhauling the Transportation Board was fundamental for the future of Nevada.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said it “is time for a statutory change in the board” and maintained the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and controller are not experienced in transportation.

The committee did not take any action on Senate Bill 322 that would replace the current seven-member board with 11 members, eight of whom would come from Southern Nevada to be appointed by the governor from nominees of the Legislative Commission.

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, agreed the board should have more experts but he said this bill “is swinging things a little too far.” He suggested a middle ground.

But Roberson said, “I don’t think we are swinging things too far.”

The current makeup includes the four elected officials and one representative appointed from Clark, Washoe and the rural counties.

Rudy Malfabon, director of the state Transportation Department, was the lone opponent. In the past five years, he said 64 to 80 percent of the road-building money has gone to Clark County.

He said there were complaints about the overloaded traffic between McCarran International Airport and the Strip. But he said those roads belong to Clark County.

Malfabon was district engineer in Clark County before his promotion and he said highway construction money can’t be used for streetcars in Las Vegas or a proposed high-speed train from Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif.

Robert Lang, professor of urban affairs at UNLV, said the freeway construction between Reno and Carson City was an example of “misplaced priorities.” He called the governing system unfair and “we need a board that reflects the entire state.”

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, asked the department to supply figures for the past 20 years to show the distribution of money and where it went.

Malfabon said he was aware of the north-south feud over the road-building money but said Clark County has received its fair share.

The bill proposes that two members each come from the unincorporated areas of Clark County and Las Vegas and one member each from North Las Vegas, Boulder City, Mesquite and Laughlin.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, who testified there were 100,000 more cars on the streets and highways in Clark County each day than in Northern Nevada.

Manendo said there was an overrepresentation in favor of Reno and the rural counties on the current board.

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