Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2018

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Beltway project OK unites county, city

Friends helping friends.

That's how Clark County and Las Vegas officials describe their newfound cooperation in revising the beltway project to address immediate traffic problems in the northwest valley.

Commissioners Paul Christensen and Bruce Woodbury held a joint news conference Wednesday with Councilman Matthew Callister and Mayor Jan Laverty Jones to announce the agreement.

"I'm a firm believer in solving problems rather than beating them to death," said Christensen, who represents the northwest area and is facing a tough re-election bid from opponents who are making an issue of growth-related problems.

The agreement accelerates completion of the beltway by 10 years and resolves an ongoing safety problem of gravel trucks speeding through residential neighborhoods along Alexander Road and Tenaya Way.

Elected officials downplayed any past animosity between the political entities and expressed an air of cooperation and friendship, with Christensen referring to Callister as his cousin "and friend."

Woodbury said it was Christensen who "challenged me and all of us to go beyond what Public Works was planning for the beltway."

But that came after Callister urged the commission to change its priorities on the beltway, even threatening legal action to withhold taxes raised in the city that the county had earmarked for the beltway.

"In all candor, this was no one's fault," Callister said Wednesday. "One thing I've learned is that growth is no one's fault."

A combination of revised financial projections and downscaling sections of the beltway to frontage roads, four-lane and two-lane highways and partial beltways makes the new plan possible, Woodbury said.

But the agreement keeps current plans for the southern beltway untouched.

"That was non-negotiable," Woodbury said.

Clark County Public Works officials said they can push completion of the northern and western sections from Tropicana Avenue to U.S. 95 and Cheyenne Avenue from 2013 to 2003.

Downscaling will save the county $400 million on the northern and western legs -- $252 million compared with $652 million for a full freeway system.

Public Works had already shaved $145 million off the southern leg by making the section from U.S. 95 to Stephanie Street a four-lane road and the section from Decatur Boulevard to Tropicana a frontage road.

With the savings, the county will also extend Durango Drive all the way through to Ann Road as another major north-south arterial.

County Finance Director Randy Walker said Public Works will be able to speed up the purchase of right of way because new revenue projections show more money coming in from funding sources for the beltway.

In 1990, voters approved Question 10, which created new motor vehicle privilege taxes and developer fees the county has earmarked for the beltway, in addition to other revenue sources for a variety of roadway projects.

Walker said the development tax is bringing in about $25 million annually -- more than projected three years ago. Also, he said revised projections show an 8 percent increase in motor vehicle privilege tax revenue, which will taper off to 5 percent in five years.

The county has bonded nearly $500 million against revenues from all the taxes, and has already spent $217.6 million on the beltway. After paying off bond debt, the county has accumulated a fund balance of $300 million, Walker added, part of which will be tapped to accelerate beltway land acquisition and construction.

Walker said the county is also analyzing whether more bonds will have to be sold for the beltway -- but only if absolutely necessary.

The city-county agreement resolves the issue raised by Jones and Callister of using taxes raised in the city for roads in the county.

Callister, who represents northwest Las Vegas, had complained loudly about the county's plan to build the southern leg of the beltway first, while Jones had criticized the county for using city residents' taxes to build a beltway through the county first.

"We have finally reached an accord," Callister said. "I think by working together, the city and county can accomplish much."

Jones agreed that cooperation can "solve the problems of this community. This resolution is in the best interest of the entire community."

One thorny issue resolved by the agreement is creating a new gravel road to divert trucks from residential areas along Alexander and Tenaya in the northwest.

The county this month will start grading property it already owns for an alternative route that will go up Barney Road, west of Hualpai Way, to Rome Boulevard north of Centennial Parkway, and east to U.S. 95.

Completion of the two-lane road should take eight months, since the county is still in the process of acquiring parcels from the federal Bureau of Land Management, Public Works spokeswoman Carolyn Potter said.

The commission on Tuesday approved an item allowing Public Works to accelerate buying property for right of way by abandoning a federally required environmental study for the beltway.

By stepping out of the tier studies, the county may give up a chance for federal funds to complete the beltway, Christensen said, but realized the expectation of that is low given federal budget cuts.

"We are going to bypass the studies and build a road," Christensen said. "We won't call it a beltway, but it will be a beltway eventually."

Jones said the city and county were rolling the dice, "but it's better to have a road."

Regardless of the outcome, she said, the residents of the area have already won.

"It's a huge win for the constituents in Councilman Callister's and Commissioner Christensen's wards," she said.

Meanwhile, gravel haul companies are waiting to see what compromises can be reached between them and the city on a plan to restrict the hours trucks can travel down the existing gravel haul route, Lone Mountain Road.

A city plan that would have banned trucks from the road between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. was torpedoed by a District Court judge, who ruled the city did not give the gravel companies an opportunity to protest the restrictions.

William Stoddard, an attorney for Nevada Ready Mix and other companies that rely on the gravel pits, said they were prepared to compromise, and predicted talks with city officials would begin soon.

SUN REPORTER Steve Sebelius contributed to this story.