On June 7, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) signed Assembly Bill 595 into law, giving the state a $1-billion infusion for highway construction funding. It includes a $20-million yearly commitment from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, plus a reallocation of car rental and property taxes. Gov. Gibbons had threatened to veto any bill raising new taxes. Yet the measure falls well short of Nevadas estimated $5-billion highway construction deficit through 2015. The plan drew strong criticism from Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman who called it "irresponsible." "I dont know how you build roads by robbing Peter to pay Paul, without something breaking," Goodman says. Proponents, however, claim its a step in the right direction that will serve as a stop-gap funding measure until the state Legislature reconvenes in 2009.
Despite $1 billion in new road construction funding, fast-growing Nevada still faces a $4 billion deficit.
"This is a start," says Brent Boynton, a Gibbons spokesman. "Its all that could realistically be done over the next two years by starting projects."
The states booming tourism and population growth have increased highway use with fewer gas tax dollars for new construction from fuel efficient hybrid vehicles. Rising building material costs have also resulted in fewer projects being built.
"In 2005-06, we saw a 30% inflationary cost increase for concrete, steel and asphalt," says Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Dept. of Transportation. "Weve since made adjustments in our estimates, and we are closer in our bids. But the number of overall projects is less because weve increased the amount per project."
NDOT, meanwhile, has slashed its $130-million annual road maintenance program by 61.5% as a cost savings measure through at least 2010. The agency is additionally exploring public-private partnerships and toll roads as possible construction alternatives, while prioritizing its existing project list. The $1-billion in funding will help NDOT pay for a $210-million, 5.5-mile Interstate-15 widening of in Southern, from the 1-15/U.S. Highway 95 "Spaghetti Bowl" interchange north to Craig Road. It will be the agencys first design-build project.
"We are looking at cost benefit analysis, partnerships and joint-ventures with local entities where they perform a portion of a project work," Martinovich adds. "The $1 billion allows us to get started thats all the money we have."