Storey wants Six Mile Canyon Road users to pay |

Storey wants Six Mile Canyon Road users to pay

A Storey County Commissioner has proposed making Six Mile Canyon Road, a section of which is shown here in this Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2004 photo, into a toll road for non-residents who use it to commute from the Dayton, Nevada area through Virginia City, to Reno. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

VIRGINIA CITY – In the 1800s, residents of this historic mining town groused about the fees they had to pay when they traveled in or out of town.

Now, some residents of cash-strapped Storey County want to bring back the toll road to force urban commuters to Reno to pay for upkeep of the scenic rural road they travel each day.

If Commissioner Greg “Bum” Hess gets his way, Six Mile Canyon Road will become the first toll road in Nevada in more than a century.

The winding route that connects the fast growing Dayton-area in neighboring Lyon County with Virginia City would become a pay-for-use roadway – but only for outsiders.

“Six years ago there wasn’t much traffic,” Hess said. “Now there’s a ton of traffic on it. It’s never been in our budget to maintain that road.”

Bob Miller, a Lyon County commissioner who represents the Dayton area, called the idea the “most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“Things work both ways,” he said. “That just doesn’t make any sense on a regional basis and on a cooperative note.”

In the mid-19th century, when Nevada was in its infancy, the newly formed Legislature routinely granted toll road franchises as a way to entice private construction of roads linking remote towns. It set fees for people on foot, wagons, horses, livestock and other animals, said Jeff Kintop, Nevada’s state archive manager.

“Toll roads were supposed to pay 2 percent into a fund that was split between the county and state,” Kintop said. “The last reported payment of a toll road tax was $20 from Esmeralda County in 1900.”

Their prevalence was noted by Mark Twain, who wrote, “It was believed that unless Congress gave the Territory another degree of longitude there would not be room enough to accommodate the toll-roads. The ends of them were hanging over the boundary line everywhere like a fringe.”

Around the country, toll roads are not uncommon. But most are major thoroughfares – not a five-mile stretch of country road.

The problem, Hess said, is the cash-strapped rural county – with a population of roughly 3,500 people and facing a projected budget deficit of $236,000 -can’t afford to maintain it.

Six Mile Canyon Road was hardly a commuter thoroughfare before the county paved it about four years ago at a cost of $40,000 to $50,000. The dirt and gravel road was mainly used by locals and hunters who bumped along its potholes and dodged muddy bogs when it rained or snowed.

But after it was paved using sales and gas tax funds, Dayton-area commuters discovered it as a scenic shortcut to Reno.

“It gets about 1,800 cars a day on it,” Hess said, who figures only about 40 or 50 of those are Storey County residents. The others, he said, pass through town without contributing any tax money.

And with more housing development sprouting up along Lyon County’s U.S. Highway 50 corridor, the problem is bound to get worse.

Hess insists Six Mile Canyon isn’t made for that kind of heavy traffic. And after only four years, he said the road already is in need of repair.

He’s proposing vehicles using the road between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. be charged a $2 toll – an amount that in 1882 would have bought passage for a wagon pulled by six horses.

“We’re not trying to punish anyone,” Hess said. “We don’t want to shut it off. It is a link. But Lyon County certainly doesn’t pay to maintain that road either.”