Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2017

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Inequity in state’s spending on roads is a joke


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.

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Connecting the dots in Carson City is a fool’s errand. Enter the fool.

Sunday, I wrote about Senate Bill 322, which Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, has bottled up in her committee despite a previous unanimous vote — that’s Democrats and Republicans — to move it to the floor for passage. What could possibly be the reason she is doing this, and, more importantly, what could possibly be the reason Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly, both Southern Nevadans, are allowing this to happen?

The answer may be in the answer to the following question: What will happen in Nevada if SB322 becomes law?

SB322 would change the governance structure of the state Transportation Department to add actual transportation experts and provide greater representation for the entire state.

The Transportation Department is governed now by political representatives that favor Northern Nevada’s 700,000 residents versus the more than 2 million people living south of Tonopah. Because of that, the funding formulas for federal dollars coming into Nevada for transportation projects get divvied up in favor of Northern Nevada.

Clark County, which generates about 80 percent of the state’s gas tax, received only 35 percent of the federal formula-based funding for major transportation projects begun from 2006 to 2009. Had the funding matched the population, Clark County would have received nearly $1 billion. Instead, it received less than half of that.

But that’s the way it works in Nevada. Look at how federal money is spent here. In 2010, Washoe County — Reno — received $1,664 per person from the federal government while those of us in Clark County, which is the economic engine for this state, received $772 per person, a stunning difference of $892 per person. If the numbers had been reversed and Southern Nevada got what Washoe County received, it would have meant something close to $1.75 billion in federal money for Clark County!

Do you have any idea what that means? We could build the Las Vegas Beltway every year! We could build the freeway from Arizona to Nevada, linking our 2 million people in Southern Nevada with Arizona’s 4.4 million folks. Do you have a clue what kind of commerce would follow that construction? How many jobs that would create in Southern Nevada?

The rest of that answer is what would happen to the north, what they wouldn’t get if we got our fair share.

We keep hearing about beautiful freeways built between Reno and Carson City — where there is hardly any traffic — while any such thought of road construction in Clark County automatically comes with a toll road suggestion as a way to pay for it. Are you serious?

Wasn’t it the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that had to kick in $600 million of local money for improvements to Interstate 15? We could have used federal funds had the governance structure in SB322 been in place.


Our governor, Brian Sandoval, is letting, perhaps even encouraging, Northern Nevada legislators such as Debbie Smith to block a bill that would bring fundamental fairness to the way federal dollars are cut up once they get to Nevada.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that every dollar that we can free up for new and better roads in Southern Nevada has a multiplier effect on the kinds of business that will open and the jobs that will be created. The more jobs, the better the economy. And the more federal dollars that we can spend on interstate commerce, the more local dollars we will have to spend on education.

Speaking of education, why, for example, is there even a debate about the incredible value that the young teachers from Teach For America bring to Nevada? And yet, there is. So much so that the teachers who have been proven over and over again to positively affect the lives of at-risk students are in jeopardy of being cut out or severely cut back from their vital mission in Nevada.

Lawmakers are arguing over a measly few million dollars while they have an easy fix in the palm of their hands. I am not suggesting that they fund Teach For America only if they pass SB322. I merely point out how ludicrous it is not to fund Teach For America for millions when they are throwing away billions elsewhere.

There are literally billions of good reasons to pass SB322 and not one in opposition that I can think of.

And even though responsible people don’t need any more examples of what good governance of transportation can do for this state compared with the politically antiquated and harmful system that currently exists, consider this:

The Carson City bypass is under construction while there is no funding for the much-needed Boulder City bypass, which would be part of Interstate 11.

A bypass around Carson City? Have you been there lately? There are 54,000 people living there, and the population shrunk over the past two years. We are building a beltway around the smallest U.S. metro area at an astronomical cost on a per-person per-usage basis.

Meanwhile, the interstate section being contemplated for Boulder City, which will connect more than 6 million people in Arizona and Nevada and all of their commercial transactions, doesn’t have any funding. Unless you consider a toll road. How do decisions like this get made? Wouldn’t they have more efficacy and wouldn’t the taxpayers trust them more if the decisions to build such projects were made by transportation experts instead of experts in all things politics?

Actually, Gov. Sandoval, it would be good politics to create the kind of open government that other states currently enjoy and which took them many decades to perfect. Nevada is still a young state, but we have examples all around us of how to do it right.

Southern Nevada needs your help, Gov. Sandoval. We need your leadership. We need you to lead the Legislature out of the wilderness of the past and toward the road less taken. That would be the road to progress and success. And those would be the roads that a properly governed Transportation Department would build.

Come on, governor, do the right thing.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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