State’s highway fund riding out crisis in good shape |

State’s highway fund riding out crisis in good shape

The state’s general fund is an estimated $881 million short this budget cycle, but the damage – thus far – hasn’t extended to the highway fund.

The general fund provides operating money for most state government agencies. But a few of those agencies are outside the fund, instead supported by the highway fund. They include the Department of Motor Vehicles, Public Safety – primarily the Nevada Highway Patrol – and, the biggest consumer of highway dollars, the Nevada Depart-ment of Transportation.

“The big issue is the highway fund is right now stable,” said NDOT Director Susan Martinovich. “We definitely don’t have all the money we need, but we’re within the budget established by the Legislature.”

NDOT has a construction budget of about $400 million this fiscal year and another $350 million in fiscal 2011. Martinovich said Nevada is one of the few states that has been able to obligate all of its $201 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, which is part of that total.

Martinovich and Deputy NDOT Director Kent Cooper said, including stimulus money, Nevada has more than $500 million worth of construction under way.

“We’ve got a lot of big projects out on the street right now,” said Martinovich.

She said those projects are a boon to the state’s struggling economy, providing good paying jobs to workers who put that money back into the economy by spending.

They said one reason the highway fund is stable is that, although people aren’t driving as much as a few years ago, they pretty much have to do a certain amount of driving to get to work and meet other obligations. Most of the highway fund comes from gasoline and diesel taxes.

As for vacation travel, Cooper said fewer people can afford to fly.

“They’re driving to short vacations instead so we’re not seeing the drop.”

The construction budget is also going a lot further these days, they said.

He said with construction companies hungry for work to keep their veteran crews on the payroll, bids have been coming in 15-20 percent and even more below estimates for highway projects.

Martinovich said that frees up the difference for use in other projects.

Because of lower than expected bids, she said NDOT was able to add about 10 projects to its original list of 69 ARRA projects.