Toll talk comes to Nevada

| 4/3/2007

Nevada state lawmakers have been told that agreeing to public-private partnerships could help the state cope with funding shortfalls to get needed road work done.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt made a recent stop in Carson City to tout the advantages of such partnerships. The now-retired congressman from Missouri is a lobbyist for investment firm Goldman Sachs – the same outfit that pocketed $20 million a year ago for brokering the $3.85 billion deal to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign group.

Gephardt told a legislative hearing the state might benefit from tolling trucks along Interstate 80 in northern Nevada and cars on freeways in Las Vegas. Privately-funded lanes on Interstate 15 linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas also might reduce congestion, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

At a time when the state is trying to figure out how to make up for a nearly $4 billion shortfall in highway funding during the next eight years, Gephardt cautioned that pay-to-play routes should not be a “panacea” for all transportation funding problems.

An alternative to tolls has been offered by Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. His bill would increase the per-gallon tax on diesel and gasoline by 3 cents during the next two years.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has made it clear he’s against traditional funding methods that include tax or fee increases. Instead, he is open to the possibility of entering into public-private partnerships.

Multiple bills have been offered in Nevada to allow local governments to pursue tolling efforts.

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, has offered a bill that would authorize municipalities and the Nevada Department of Transportation to enter into public-private partnerships. It also would require that alternative routes be available for those who want to avoid paying to use the privatized routes.

Another bill in the Assembly would allow municipalities to set up toll roads and bridges. Sponsored by Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, it also would require that alternative routes be available but it doesn’t permit public-private partnerships.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, is pushing his bill that would limit authorization to set up toll roads and bridges. To qualify, cities would need to have at least 10,000 residents while counties would be required to have at least 100,000 residents.

Local governments that qualify could partner with private groups to design, build and operate toll routes.

Hardy’s bill – AB417 – and Atkinson’s bill – AB583 – are in the Assembly Transportation Committee. Nolan’s bill – SB392 – is in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

McGinness’ fuel tax bill – SB324 – is in the Senate Taxation Committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor