Nevada highway officials promise fight to block Bush road funding cuts

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Nevada Transportation Director Tom Stephens is in Washington, D.C., this week working to head off the Bush Administration's plan to cut highway funding to help balance the budget.

According to the White House Office of Budget and Management, the administration plans to chop federal highway spending by $9.1 billion to $22.7 billion next year -- a 29 percent cut.

In Nevada, NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said this translates to $40 million to $60 million a year.

Federal officials justify the proposal by pointing to declining gasoline and other tax revenues coming into the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

But Magruder said NDOT officials don't see that much of a decline.

"We have some real concerns about how they came up with these numbers," he said. "It's hard to believe they'll be that low."

Stephens is among state officials scheduled to testify on the subject Feb. 11 before the subcommittee controlling highway funds. He is expected to argue revenues haven't decreased by 29 percent and that the Highway Trust Fund surplus of more than $18 million is designed to help smooth out any dips in revenue rather than be held back to make the federal budget look less in the red.

Magruder pointed out most of the money is generated from taxes and fees collected by the states and is supposed to be returned to them for road projects. In other words, it belongs to the states.

He also said the cutback is only a proposal at this point and that, even if included in President Bush's budget, it has to make it through Congress where members are sensitive to the highway as well as other needs in their states.

Nevada, Magruder said, is still growing rapidly and its highway needs are increasing, not decreasing.

He said it's not possible to determine the impact of any cutback on Nevada road projects such as the Carson City freeway at this point.

But he assured residents in the capital that Phase 1B -- completing the northern half of the bypass -- will go forward on schedule because the money is already in-hand.

Major cuts over the next few years, he said, could cause delays in some projects, but that any speculation would be premature at this point.

Program Development Chief Kent Cooper said projects two or three years in the future may possibly be affected.

But all that depends on the final highway fund budget approved by Congress.

Magruder said Stephens, as NDOT director and head of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officers, will work to make sure that, if there are cuts, they don't damage badly needed programs in Nevada and the West.


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