Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2017

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Bill intends to give Clark County more control of highway dollars

Motorists in Clark County pay the majority of gas taxes to build and maintain highways but they are getting shortchanged, says the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“The priorities are backwards,” complained Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, whose committee is considering a bill to remove the board of directors — including Gov. Brian Sandoval — from its role as overseer of the state Transportation Department, which approves the road construction budget.

Manendo cited the recent construction of the freeway between Reno and Carson City and the extension of the freeway through Carson City as expensive projects in Northern Nevada. But the northern part of the state has only a small portion of drivers compared with the number of motorists in the Las Vegas area.

The current board is composed of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller and one member each from Las Vegas, Reno and the rural counties. The bill has already had one hearing.

Senate Bill 322 would replace that board with 11 members, eight of whom would be from Clark County; two from Washoe County and one from rural counties. They would be appointed by the governor.

Sandoval says the state board “and how it is structured now has done an extremely good job and will continue that way.”

The governor said he thinks Clark County has received a fair distribution of the highway construction money.

Figures supplied by the state Transportation Department for this fiscal year show Clark County is receiving 80 percent of the $357 million for new projects and 80 percent of $160 million for other projects.

For fiscal 2008-12, Clark County received 64 percent or $2.5 billion of the $4 billion spent, says the agency.

The governor said Project Neon — which expands a 3.7-mile-long section of Interstate 15 and major street connections from south Sahara Avenue to the Spaghetti Bowl — “is the most important program is Southern Nevada history and is a priority for the board and transportation department.” The first phase is expected to cost $1.5 billion.

“All of the members of the board have done a good job,” said the governor, who is chairman of the board. Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto and Controller Kim Wallin are both from Clark County, meaning three of the seven members have ties to Clark County.

Manendo said the new makeup would reflect the population, with each appointee representing 250,000 people. He said the governor could appoint experts in the transportation field. “No offense, but I don’t know if the attorney general is an expert in transportation.”

Also, there are complaints about the refurbishing of roads in rural Nevada compared with those in Clark County, Manendo said. There are more miles of road in the rural counties but “what they don’t take into consideration is the number of cars on the street."

“So if you have 50 miles in a rural area and five in Clark County, those five miles are beat up by a million cars every day. The 50 miles in the rurals are beat up by 10 cars every day. You don’t need to keep maintaining them as much," he said.

This doesn’t put money in the pot, said the senator who complained the governor took money from the highway fund to balance the state budget during the recession. “That hurts all the state, not just Southern Nevada, and we don’t get that revenue to put people to work.”

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