Road Warrior: RTC has wish list but few funds to make them come true

Anybody got $5 billion laying around?

That’s what it would take to make this place drivable.

The Regional Transportation Commission keeps a list of the valley’s dream road construction projects. It includes everything from making the Las Vegas Beltway into a true freeway (almost $1 billion) to installing a traffic signal in front of the liquor store in Mesquite ($350,000).

In between are just about every project a driver could want. It’s enough to make you salivate as you imagine eight-lane highways with smooth pavement all over town.

You want to remake Durango Road, Decatur Boulevard and Rainbow Boulevard in the southern part of town? No problem. Just pony up $27 million.

Fix the mess that is the junction of U.S. Highway 95 and the northern Interstate 215? Boom, $60 million.

Widening the incredibly cluttered portion of Eastern Avenue between the I-215 and St. Rose Parkway to eight lanes would set you back $21 million.

But these are dreams only. Very little of it’s paid for.

Mike Hand, the director of engineering services for streets and highways at the RTC, said the project list was compiled from the cities and the county. It’s essentially a list of what they’d like to do, if only they had the money. It doesn’t include projects that are already scheduled and paid for.

Many of the dream projects are focused on building roads in the parts of town that developed quickly before the economy crashed. The houses were built, the shopping centers populated, but the roads never came. This is why traffic backs up for a mile or more on some roads at rush hour.

Take Fort Apache Road in the southwest part of town, for example. Development in that area skyrocketed in the early 2000s. The new Wet ’n’ Wild water park is about to open out there, too.

And yet, Fort Apache remains a two-lane road for much of its existence. There are busy intersections without traffic lights. Redoing the whole road from Blue Diamond Road to Tropicana Avenue would cost $28 million, but less than $8 million so far has been set aside for it.

Which means it’s not going to happen anytime soon. There will be no wide highway, no traffic lights.

Much of this is because of the economic collapse. Revenues plunged. Budgets were cut. Development all but came to a halt.

Projects that are partially funded, and many of them are, could be finished in just a few years if money were available, the RTC said.

Among them are finishing the Beltway, redoing Rancho Road from Bonanza Road to Rainbow Boulevard, and installing a slew of traffic signals where they’re badly needed all over town. Just a few billion dollars and all our problems would be solved.

The agency is pushing for an increase in the gasoline tax, a major source of highway building revenue.

It rightly points out that the 9-cent-per-gallon tax that was instituted in 1995 doesn’t provide enough money in today’s world. Cars are more fuel-efficient today. We’re using less gasoline. And yet our population has doubled, from 1 million to 2 million.

There’s inflation, too. Today’s 9 cents doesn’t go as far as it did 18 years ago. We have more needs and less money to pay for them.

Tina Quigley, the agency’s general manager, told legislators and the RTC’s board that if current funding levels continue, there would only be enough money to build a single interchange each year, or a mile of roadway in each jurisdiction. Nowhere near enough to take care of what’s needed.

Hand also noted that as the valley’s roads get older, maintenance costs will go up. More of that shrinking pile of money will be needed just to keep up with what we already have.

The bill the RTC backs, Assembly Bill 413, would allow Clark County to raise the per-gallon tax and then tie it to inflation. The amount of the increase would be up to the county, but 3 cents a gallon is what’s being floated. The tax could presumably go up every year for the next 10 years. There’s another bill, Senate Bill 377, that would increase the state gasoline tax by 2 cents a year for the next 10 years.

Together, the two taxes would raise the price of a tank of gasoline a few dollars over the next decade. With the price of gasoline already hovering close to $4 a gallon, we’re sure to complain if these taxes get passed.

But which one will we complain about more? The gasoline taxes, or the valley’s shoddy roads?

A note: Beginning next week, the Road Warrior column will shift to Sundays only, and it will be in a question-and-answer format. The Wednesday column is being discontinued.

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