Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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State mulls plan for toll road system

Allowing a toll road system in Nevada got a cool reception from the state Board of Transportation on Monday.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the state must look at all possibilities for paying for future road construction, but he and other board members said they wanted to see more financial details.

A proposal for toll roads was rejected by the 2011 Legislature. The state uses gasoline and special fuel taxes and federal funds to pay for the road building.

The state Transportation Department outlined a proposal from a Florida company called ACS to design, build and maintain improvements such as added lanes in Clark County on Interstate 15 from Sahara Avenue to Rancho Drive at an estimated cost of $400-$500 million.

The company would be able to add toll roads but there would still be free lanes.

The department wanted the authority from the board to move ahead to further study and seek competing bids. Agency officials said it could go forward without approval of the Legislature because ACS presented its proposal rather than the department seeking bids.

Bill Hoffman, assistant director of engineers, and Cole Mortensen, senior project manager in the department, told the board this would be a new source of funding for highway construction.

The private company would issue bonds for construction and then use the tolls to repay the debt. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto solicited from the department that it spent a "couple of million" in 2011 in moving ahead with its unsuccessful plans for toll roads.

The department planned to spend $1.5 million each on legal and financial experts to study the toll road issue. Masto said the state spent its money before and "nothing happened. I would hate to go through that again."

The board delayed until its September meeting a decision whether to go ahead with seeking other bids for the I-15 project.

Hoffman said allowing a private firm to do this project could cut the cost by $100 million, create 4,100 construction jobs and get the project completed more quickly. He said firms that design, build and maintain projects due a better job since they know they are on the hook for the maintenance costs.

Hoffman said the bonds issued by the private firm would not count against the state's debt limit.

The department has submitted to the governor's office a bill draft request for the 2013 Legislature. It is also proposing to toughen Nevada's seat belt law. It would allow a law enforcement officer to stop a motorist for not wearing a seat belt.

Currently an officer can only issue a violation for failure to wear a seat belt if the motorist is stopped for another infraction.

In other action, the board agreed to spend about $700,000 for maintenance of the four overpasses at Tropicana Avenue on the Las Vegas Strip. Sandoval and other board members suggested this should be the responsibility of local governments.

But state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said it belonged to the state. She said Clark County would accept responsibility only if the overpasses were brought up to standard and that would cost $12 million.

The $700,000 would include maintenance on the escalators and elevators and such things as removing graffiti. Sandoval, the board chairman, said this could have been resolved 10 years ago and now it is costing the state twice as much a year.

The board received the names of the six finalists to succeed Martinovich who is to retire in September. Three are top executives in the department. They are Richard Nelson, who is assistant director of operations, Rudy Malfabon who is deputy director in Southern Nevada and Mary Martini who is chief engineer in the Las Vegas district.

The other three are Wayne Seidel, the administrator for motor carriers in the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, Jason Cosby who is director of public works in Virginia and Rakesh Tripathi who is assistant of planning for the Texas Department of Transportation . There were 23 applicants but the list was narrowed down.

The board will conduct interviews July 23 and then make a decision.

The board authorized condemnation of 17.1 acres to permit the construction of the first phase of the U.S. 93 Boulder City Bypass. Martinovich said bids should be issued before the end of the year for the beginning of the bypass.

The highway department has offered the K & L Dirt Co. $2 million for the property but has not received a counteroffer.

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