The Galena Creek Bridge reared its head Monday as the Senate Finance Committee took up a bill to revamp the Nevada Department of Transportation Board.
While sponsor Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, described the plan as replacing elected officials with an 11-member board of experts to manage Nevada’s roadways, it quickly became clear that Southern Nevadans including members of finance think the existing board has spent too much money building in the north and rural Nevada.
In their eyes, I-580’s Galena Creek Bridge, a $95 million, 1,725-foot long structure soaring 320 feet above the creek, is the poster child for that argument.
Robert Lang of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said the bridge is the largest of its type — a cathedral arch — in the U.S. and that its construction was unnecessary.
“You had to bridge the Mississippi,” he said. “You had to bridge the Hudson. You didn’t have to bridge Galena Creek.”
Lang said Nevada has outgrown the current board, which includes the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and controller along with a citizen member from each of three districts — southern, rural and western Nevada. Now, he said, 70 percent of the population and even more of the demand is in Las Vegas.
That’s why the bill proposes 11 members, eight of whom would be from the south, two from Washoe County and one rural.
“Las Vegas generates the vast share of the demand. It generates most of the revenue,” he said. “We need an NDOT board that will include and serve the whole state.”
The Southern Nevada RTC and Las Vegas chamber also testified in support of the bill.
NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon told the committee Senate Bill 322 is unnecessary because the south hasn’t been cheated. He said in the past five years, 64 percent of NDOT funding has been spent in Clark County, 80 percent of capacity projects and 68 percent of other projects even though Clark has just 20 percent of NDOT’s roads.
Malfabon also pointed out that some of the projects discussed by the southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission aren’t the state’s problem. He said the major routes to and from the airport are owned by Clark County and the monorail project isn’t in NDOT’s jurisdiction.
“I feel the system is working and oppose changes to the current transportation board structure,” he said.
Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, challenged him saying “your argument is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He asked Malfabon to explain why shifting to a board dominated by the area with the most people and demand isn’t the right policy.
Malfabon said basically the existing members have that expertise from his staff. He said he spent most of his career at NDOT working in Las Vegas and believes he can ensure Southern Nevada gets its fair share of funding.
“Sometimes we feel the allocation has been unfair,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.
The committee took no action on SB322.