Brad Bonkowski and Lori Bagwell: How much for better roads in Carson City?

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If you drive, cycle or even walk in Carson City, you know that our roads need help. Potholes, “alligatoring,” and plain old failing asphalt are common throughout the city. Roads are the issue both staff and your elected officials hear about most often from the public. This community has 676 miles of paved roads, most of them in need of some level of maintenance.

It would take an estimated $100 million today to bring our entire road system to a condition that would be equivalent to 70% of new, which is the condition that is best for proper maintenance to get the longest lifespan from the asphalt. If we could get our roads to that 70% condition level, it would then take an additional $15 million annually to keep up with the appropriate maintenance needs.

Unfortunately, Carson City does not have $100 million to bring our roads to that condition, nor do we generate enough revenue annually to cover the necessary maintenance needs. It would take about 70 cents of every dollar collected for road maintenance alone. That would leave little funding for law enforcement, emergency services, health, parks, or anything else. This is an impossible answer anyhow, as most of the funds are “specific intent funds,” which you’ll be happy to hear your local government cannot just redirect as they wish. Funds are collected through certain ways for specific purposes only, and are subject to many rules and laws.

We receive calls and emails continually from citizens asking why we don’t fix the roads. The answer, as explained above, is not enough money.

Carson City’s actual annual road maintenance budget is around $6.9 million total from local gas tax, federal grant funding, and when possible, we try to find some surplus in the General Fund that we can use. These numbers can also vary from year to year depending on the grant opportunities we are able to secure.

The current gas tax in Carson City is $0.52/gallon, of which $0.14/gallon is the share that comes to us, the local entity (the rest goes to the state or federal government). The portion of diesel tax for Carson City is ZERO. The gas tax paid on a gallon of tax in Washoe County is $0.80/gallon, which is why gas is so much cheaper here in Carson City. Washoe County put themselves on a Fuel Tax Index Plan that provides additional revenue for their roads.

This is a not a simple issue.

Over time, the costs of construction and maintenance have risen but the tax has not increased since the $0.05 tax was levied to build the Carson City I-580 Freeway Extension in April 1997. As you are aware, that is still not completed. The state has already begun repairing sections that are deteriorating on the completed portions of I-580. Roads are susceptible to weather, overweight vehicles, road base failure, and other issues. Like anything else, they are expected to fail over time, but their lifespan can be extended with proper, regular maintenance. Another complication is flex-fuel, hybrid, propane fuel and electric vehicles. Do those vehicles pay less tax or no tax at all? Our road tax funds will continue to diminish as more and more of these types of vehicles are sold. Yet, these vehicles still need roads to drive on, but under the current system, they don’t pay their share of maintenance.

At the local level, the options we are looking at are to allocate the limited funds available in our general budget, and to encourage a tax measure through the Legislature that would likely require a vote of the people. You may recall this very issue was on the last ballot in 2016. It was defeated by 65%, which presents a quandary. The issue our constituents call us about most frequently is the issue our constituents do not want to pay more for. Until the public decides they are willing to pay more for better roads, it is unlikely that the street in front of your home will be fixed.

Meanwhile, our Transportation Division staff has done an excellent job finding grant funding opportunities to stretch our limited resources, including a $7 million federal grant to help pay for the South Carson Street Complete Streets Project that will improve business access, complete the city’s core communications infrastructure, replace and improve water, sewer and storm drain infrastructure, increase street lighting and add multi-use paths along Carson Street for bikes and pedestrians. The downside of grant funding are the strings that are attached to any particular grant opportunity, which may dictate that the grant funds can only be used in a low-income area, or that much of the funding must be used for upgrading the ADA access adjacent to the roadway. It is not an ideal way to work, but it does help us to stretch our limited resources as far as possible.

The question we, as the Board of Supervisors and the Regional Transportation Commission, are asking you is what level of road construction and maintenance do you want and are you willing to pay more to have a better road system?

Carson City Supervisor from Ward 2 Brad Bonkowski is chairperson of the Regional Transportation Commission. Ward 3 Supervisor Lori Bagwell is a member of the Regional Transportation Commission.


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