State constitution might block toll road bill


CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Constitution might block the Department of Transportation’s move to charge tolls on a $1 billion fast-lane project it wants private companies to build in Las Vegas, legislators were told today.

Legislative lawyers told the Senate Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee that a clause in the constitution seems to block the imposition of tolls by private companies to compensate them for constructing highways in Nevada.

The clause states that any fees on motor vehicles driving in the state must be used “exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and repair of the public highways of this state.”

The announcement came during testimony on Senate Bill 206, which would change the state law that now forbids toll roads. The bill would not change the state constitution.

SB206 bill, proposed by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, would allow toll roads and set up procedures that private companies must follow if they are selected by the state Transportation Department to build roads in Nevada.

Another bill dealing with toll roads and the Transportation Department’s 19-mile planned toll lane demonstration project on Las Vegas freeways has not yet been introduced in the Assembly. The estimated $1 billion cost of his project would come from private money.

Transportation Director Susan Martinovich insisted the constitution will not hamper efforts to establish privately-built toll roads in Nevada.

She said in an interview that tolls collected first could be placed in the state highway fund and then the money forwarded to the private companies which will build and maintain highways.

Yet several members of the committee questioned that view and generally expressed disgust about allowing toll roads in Nevada.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said legislators must rely on the legal opinions of their staff lawyers.

She said amending the constitution to allow toll roads would take several years.

Proposed constitutional amendments require approve of the Legislature in two consecutive sessions and then a vote of the people.

If enabling legislation won legislative support this year and again at the 2011 session, then the question would be on placed the statewide ballot in 2012.

Cegavske also was upset because the Transportation Department intends to use at least some portions of existing freeway for its demonstration project.

“These are existing roads our taxpayers paid for,” she said.

 

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.