Transportation at a Crossroads

From the daily commute to a weekend bike ride or road trip, and from the goods trucked to local stores to Nevada’s overall economic vitality, transportation impacts everyone. A look into Nevada’s transportation past and a glimpse at the transportation innovations of the future illustrates how important transportation is.

As the fastest growing state for decades, Nevada’s past population boom necessitated innovative transportation improvements. As communities, cities and transportation needs grew, roads were paved through what was once desert.

The funding for this needed road construction, maintenance and operations comes from fuel taxes. Today, due to inflation, these per-gallon fuel taxes cover approximately half of the road construction, maintenance and operations costs that they funded when last raised in 1992.

Much as one does when faced with growing household costs and a stagnant income, local and state agencies and groups across Nevada joined together to carefully prioritize, fund and build the most needed projects and transportation improvements. Not only do these projects help citizens drive, bus, bike or otherwise get where they need to go, they also invigorate the economy and put Nevadans to work. Studies show an economic gain of nearly $1.50 for every $1 invested in Nevada transportation.

Last year, in an effort to increase funding for transportation projects in Clark County, the Clark County Board of Commissioners approved fuel revenue indexing. Fuel revenue is generated each time a motorist fills up their vehicle with gasoline, and a portion of what they pay at the pump helps fund transportation projects. The Clark County Commission approved fuel revenue to be tied to the rate of inflation from January 2014 to December 2016. For motorists, this averages out to about a dime a day over the next three years. This funding measure will help keep up with materials and labor costs, and is expected to raise $700 million in bonding capacity, fund 185 projects and create thousands of jobs. It is similar to fuel tax indexing bonds previously implemented by the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County to fund vital projects in Northern Nevada.

So, where are we headed now? In the near future, the national spotlight will focus on funding for roads and other transportation systems as Congress deliberates a potential new transportation funding bill. Projections show the national highway trust fund will run in the red by this fall, if not sooner.

The state’s, and nation’s, transportation future is at a crossroads as funding hangs in the balance. It is only the continued innovation and collaboration from transportation partners and the support of the public that will keep Nevada transportation moving forward.

Here are some projects to help lead the way:

Project NEON is a multi-year program of improvements to boost safety, mobility and accessibility on Nevada’s most heavily-traveled interstate- the nearly four miles of I-15 from the U.S. 95/I-15 interchange in downtown Las Vegas to Sahara Avenue. The project is expected to sustain hundreds of planning and engineering jobs and thousands of construction jobs over its lifetime. And in joining with a private partner to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the roadway, private funding will be leveraged to build the improvements more quickly than public funding alone can provide.

Nevada and Arizona have joined in a study of a future Interstate 11 corridor linking Las Vegas and Phoenix, and potentially beyond. This corridor planning is the groundwork for a potential interstate connection to spur economic development, commerce and travel across the region in the future. Some sections of this future corridor will be constructed or enhanced in coming years by NDOT and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, while the majority remain part of long-range plans.

These improvements only move Nevada forward if connected to an integrated statewide transportation network of not just roads, but freight, bicycle, transit and more. That’s why the Nevada Department of Transportation and local agencies work closely together to prioritize projects that sustain a strong statewide transportation network across the state, from Laughlin to McDermitt, from Ely to Hawthorne and everywhere in between.

How can individuals contribute to the transportation system? The first step is understanding what an important investment transportation is. Becoming engaged and educated at public meetings, as public transportation funding decisions are deliberated and projects are built, is another step.

As these projects pave the way to the future, it is important that each Nevadan understand the impact, and importance, of transportation.

Rudy Malfabon, P.E. is Director of Nevada Department of Transportation