NDOT needs $11 billion for roads over next 7 years

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The long-term transportation plan presented to the state transportation board estimates Nevada's highway system needs about $11 billion between now and 2015.

And Deputy Director for Engineering Kent Cooper said that is primarily just the two main urban areas, the Las Vegas Valley and Reno-Sparks. He said the state's current revenue stream will fall more than $4 billion short of that.

According to the plan, Nevada needs to spend at least $1.5 billion between now and 2014 on maintenance and preservation projects "just to avoid increasing the backlog of pavement and bridge maintenance needs."

"Reconstructing roads costs about four times more than resurfacing them," the report states.

Unfortunately, one of the things NDOT gave up to meet its share of budget cuts mandated by the governor's office, was the lion's share of its maintenance budget. Director Susan Martinovich said that means NDOT will have to get creative to extend the life and usability of Nevada roads until the economy turns around.

She said maybe they do things like put down a two inch overlay instead of the standard four inch thick overlay when repaving.

"We'll get some life and time out of the roads that way," she said.

"It's cyclic," she said of the economy. "We just have to make sure we aren't too far behind when it comes back."

Martinovich told the board headed by Gov. Jim Gibbons the good news is that Congress has approved and President Bush on Monday signed legislation pumping $8 billion into the federal Highway Fund, bailing out a shortfall that would have cost Nevada alone $110 million a year " 25 percent of NDOT's budget.

Higher gas prices have been reducing the number of miles people drive nationwide, leaving the highway fund short of projections.

Martinovich told the board one of Nevada's problems is the state fuel tax is a flat 18.4 cents a gallon where many other states get a percentage. With skyrocketing gas prices, some of those other states were collecting significantly more money. But with people driving less, Nevada has actually seen its gas tax revenue drop.

She said NDOT will have to oppose any suggestion the state give a gas tax holiday to residents.

"It would equate to $20 million a month and that's a large hit on our system," Martinovich said.

Current Nevada law says if the federal government lowers the gas tax, Nevada's automatically rises to make up the difference so that construction and maintenance funding is preserved. She said any attempt to change that law in the face of a federal gas tax holiday would also be devastating to NDOT's budget.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said that would also cause serious problems for the state bond ratings since those tax funds are pledged to support highway bonds. He said the state could end up in violation of some bond covenants, "an avenue we don't want to go down."

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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