On Wednesday, Carson City residents will have the opportunity to attend a public meeting to review and comment on the final design and location of the Carson City Freeway Multi-Use Path. Unfortunately, one major element will be missing from that presentation - how to fund the proposed pathway. The bike and pedestrian pathway, as currently planned, is estimated to cost almost $3.5 million, and while that's a considerable reduction from the original $8 million estimate, it's still a considerable chunk of money. And extra money is something that Carson City doesn't seem to have. More importantly, this bike path design could have an impact on construction of the freeway itself.
The city's 1994 master plan shows a bike path built along the freeway corridor but there has been no funding allocated for its construction. The situation now is that the Nevada Department of Transportation has begun preliminary bridge construction and will advertise for full construction bids in February for the freeway's northern section. The city must present a final design plan to the NDOT Board of Directors at their May 9 meeting. If the bike plan is to be included in the freeway design, Carson City must show how it intends to pay for it. NDOT has consistently said they will not pay for the bike path construction, and they shouldn't. NDOT's funds are to be used for construction of roads and highways throughout the state and to spend those dollars for a bike path in Carson City would set an expensive precedent. Draining those limited dollars from the state highway fund to construct bike and pedestrian paths in local communities could jeopardize completion of the Carson City freeway as well as other needed highway projects. If the bike plan is included in the final design without being funded, then $70 million of federal funding for the northern leg of the freeway could be held up, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Any further delay of the long-promised freeway is unacceptable.
In 1997, Carson City passed a 4 cent per gallon gasoline tax to help pay for the freeway design and construction. The tax generates almost $1 million a year and is set to expire in 2012. Suggestions of extending that tax to pay for the bike paths should not be a funding choice for supervisors. That tax is to assure the construction and completion of the freeway, not pathways. To extend the tax further into the future for non-road expenditures could jeopardize future funding options for the construction and maintenance of our local streets and roads.
For these, the Board of Directors of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce has voted unanimously to request the Carson City Board of Supervisors amend the freeway design by eliminating the multi-use bicycle/pedestrian paths as proposed. While the chamber supports a city bicycle/pedestrian plan, it should not be linked to the construction of the freeway.
Chamber President Steve Browne emphasized that, "The Chamber is not against bike paths, but we cannot support actions that could increase costs or further delay the construction of the freeway. There may even be better areas and locations for the bike paths than along the freeway corridor. We would gladly consider options that are not directly linked to the freeway."
Larry Osborne is the executive vice president of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce.