CARSON CITY -- Assemblyman Joe Hardy has found a good reason for the 2009 Legislature to back his bill to facilitate construction of a $500 million toll road around Boulder City: Do nothing and traffic jams will become brutal.
"With the bypass, you would get rid of the traffic, there would be less pollution and you'd be able to drive a lot faster in getting past Boulder City," Hardy said.
The Legislature on Tuesday released its weekly list of bill draft requests by legislators, including Hardy's proposal to allow the state to enter into a public-private partnership to construct a Boulder City bypass road.
The 17-mile road would start near Railroad Pass on U.S. Highway 93 and run south around the Boulder City Municipal Airport and reconnect just west of Hoover Dam with Highway 93 and the federal road to the new Hoover Dam bridge.
Congestion on the existing road through Boulder City is expected to become unbearable in 2010 after the new Hoover Dam bridge is completed.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, large trucks have been blocked from traveling over Hoover Dam. They must use U.S. Highway 95 and cross the Colorado River at Laughlin.
With the completion of the new Hoover Dam bridge, 1,500 to 2,500 trucks each day once again will drive through Boulder City and cross the Colorado at the new bridge.
State law now prohibits toll roads, but Hardy's proposal would carve out an exception.
Hardy, R-Boulder City, remembers the days before Sept. 11, 2001, when traffic backed up through Boulder City as frustrated drivers waited to pass over Hoover Dam.
"Cars aren't the problem. It's the trucks and the trouble they have going up and down hills." Hardy said. "When the trucks come back, we have the same horrible bottleneck. We don't have a lot of options."
He doubts a bypass could be finished before 2012 or 2014, so any way you look at it drivers will face a hassle for a couple of years.
About 30,000 motor vehicles a day now drive through Boulder City, while 12,000 head south on Highway 95 toward Laughlin.
Scott Rawlins, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, isn't sure the state can find private investors willing to come up with money for the bypass in exchange for tolls it would earn.
The state has turned to consideration of toll roads and other public-private partnership agreements because gasoline taxes no longer are sufficient to keep up with the highway construction demand.
The transportation department faces a $5 billion highway funding shortfall. Gasoline taxes have not been increased since 1992, and there is little interest in increasing them as the state's economy struggles.
Rawlins said studies and discussions with investors have shown a bypass toll road would be a "hard sell," according to Rawlins.
The only highway in Nevada where companies did show interest in constructing a toll road was Interstate 15, according to Rawlins.
He said the amount of a toll that would be necessary to finance the Boulder City bypass never has been arrived at during discussions.
"Anything that can bring in new money and improve transportation, we are all for," he said.
Even if Hardy's bill receives approval, Rawlins said the state would need a year or two to conduct additional studies and solicit bids.
Hardy is confident investor interest in a Boulder City bypass would increase once his bill becomes law. Investors can hardly be expected to back Nevada toll roads now, since they are illegal, he said.
Many legislators and Gov. Jim Gibbons are on record opposing toll roads unless motorists have an alternative, free road to reach destinations.
Hardy agrees that a free alternative road must be available for drivers bound for Hoover Dam and the existing U.S. 93 serves that purpose.
There is no reason for truckers and other drivers to gripe about a toll, since it would be an entirely new road that they have not paid for through taxes, he said.
Rawlins and Hardy see other reasons for a toll road. Eventually, the road would be needed even more as communities develop on the Arizona side of the dam and the Kingman, Ariz., area grows.
Hardy said the bypass also would benefit Las Vegas and its casinos. With multiple options for gaming available, tourists might decide against Las Vegas if they are forced to sit for an hour or more in a traffic jam in Boulder City.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.