Toll-road plan endorsed
May 15, 2008
CARSON CITY – A proposal to allow for privatized toll lanes in Las Vegas as a way to help reduce a huge funding shortfall for Nevada highway projects was endorsed Thursday by the Nevada Transportation Board.
Gov. Jim Gibbons, the board chairman, joined with other panel members present at the meeting to back the demonstration project. While Gibbons opposes higher taxes, a spokesman said after the meeting that the voluntary freeway toll doesn’t clash with his anti-tax philosophy.
The pilot project, which requires approval from the 2009 Legislature, would be located on Nevada’s busiest stretches of road – Highway 95 to Interstate 15, I-15 to the Interstate 215 Beltway, and Summerlin Parkway to Highway 95.
Express lanes for cars with two or more passengers and for emergency vehicles exist on the routes already.
Under the plan, the lanes would remain free for the emergency vehicles and for cars with three or more passengers, but there would be a fee – undetermined as yet – for vehicles with one or two persons.
“During these difficult fiscal times, it’s essential that we look at every alternative for funding our transportation needs,” Gibbons stated, adding that he backed the idea that came from an advisory panel he created a year ago.
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“The governor feels this does conform with his pledge not to raise taxes,” said Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer. He added the fee would be optional, and that’s different than a “blanket” tax or fee that everyone has to pay.
Toll-road legislation died in the 2007 session. Also, lawmakers rejected the idea of cameras to catch drivers that run red lights. Lawmakers would have to approve the toll-road concept in 2009 along with a variation of the camera legislation since an electronic monitoring system would be needed for electronic toll-collecting and nabbing toll-lane violators.
State Transportation Director Susan Martinovich has said her agency needs enabling legislation that would provide “flexibility” in negotiating highway-building ventures.
Advocates of the public-private partnerships for highway projects include former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, now a lobbyist for investment firm Goldman Sachs. Gephardt has said the public-private deals aren’t limited to toll roads, and light-rail ventures also are part of the equation. While there’s some resistance to such deals, he added that to many tax-wary voters they represent “the least worst alternative.”