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$45 million for maglev shifted to airport road project


Justin M. Bowen / Sun file photo

Traffic is shown on Interstate 215 at its interchange with the connector road to McCarran International Airport.

Updated Wednesday, March 17, 2010 | 5:31 p.m.

Funds previously promised to go toward building a maglev train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas will likely now be used to make improvements to the Interstate 215 connector to McCarran International Airport.

The shifting of $45 million in federal transportation funds comes as part of the Senate’s passage of a jobs bill that now goes to President Barack Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the money earmarked for the maglev project will now go to the Nevada Department of Transportation with the intent that they be used for the airport connector road.

“Following discussions with and the recommendations from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, McCarran Airport, the City of Henderson and the Nevada Department of Transportation, we agreed that redirecting the funds from maglev to NDOT, with the intent that the money be applied to widening the airport connector at McCarran and 215, will have the biggest immediate impact for job creation and relief from traffic congestion,” Reid said in a statement. “I urge the governor to put these funds to work immediately to protect Nevadans’ jobs and ensure the completion of a project that will result in reduced congestion for a faster, safer commute.”

Sen. John Ensign voted against the bill.

State transportation department officials said they didn't specifically request money be diverted from the maglev project, but they were happy the funds would go to a road project.

“Any bill that brings construction jobs to Nevada is good news,” NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said.

Regional Transportation Commission spokeswoman Tracy Bower said the project has been on the commission’s priority list for years.

Clark County spokeswoman Jennifer Knight said the money from the jobs bill goes to NDOT, so it will be up to the state to decide whether it will delegate the money to the county for the project.

The county applied last year for stimulus money through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program for this project, but was denied.

In that application, the county said the project was “shovel-ready” and would provide 1,450 full-time construction jobs for two years. The $140 million project is expected to take 2 1/2 years to complete.

The project application says the project will include a new ramp for connector traffic to reach eastbound 215, and will widen the beltway from six lanes to eight lanes between Las Vegas Boulevard and Windmill Lane.

The project is designed to fit in the county’s existing beltway right-of-way, limiting the impact on nearby homes and businesses, according to the TIGER grant documents.

Reid was once a supporter of the proposal to build a high-speed magnetic levitation train to Las Vegas, but switched his support last summer to the privately funded DesertXpress project, which would build a traditional steel-wheel train from Las Vegas to Victorville.

But the American Maglev Group, which would build the train for the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, said in January it still expected to get the $45 million Reid previously helped to secure for the project.

When the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the award of $8 billion for 13 projects to build high-speed train systems along existing train corridors on Jan. 29, Las Vegas wasn’t on the list.

DesertXpress didn’t seek the funds and Reid and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the maglev group didn’t apply.

The commission said it did apply, and in February, maglev backers said a Chinese government-controlled bank agreed to loan up to $7 billion for the project.

In a statement released late Wednesday, spokesman Mark Fierro said the California-Nevada Super Speed Train commission will continue to try to get the money from the Federal Railroad Administration.

“It is unfortunate that Senator Reid has again announced his intention to ‘re-direct’ $45 million in seed money that two previous Congresses (2005 and 2008) and one president (Bush) designated for the state of Nevada to commence construction of the fastest train in the world to connect Las Vegas and Anaheim,” Fierro said. “This money -- the result of 20 years of effort by three governors, 10 legislatures and a state agency … will begin creation of 90,000 jobs for the working men and women of Southern Nevada.”

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