Concern over federal road funds delays action on research project

CARSON CITY — The state Transportation Board delayed action Monday on a research project that would cost the agency $1 million over four years because of concerns about the availability of federal road funds beginning later this year.

The project would look at U.S. Department of Transportation priorities to promote safer and more efficient and economic movement of goods and people on our roadways.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the board, said he also needed more information about the research that would be performed by a consortium including the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV. He calculated that about a third of the funding would be spent on overhead, including utilities and rent.

If the board is facing the potential of having to cut road projects later this year because of a looming federal highway funding issue, the agency needs to be cautious now about spending scarce funds on research, he said.

Before the board considered the request for matching funds for the research project, it heard alarming news about the future of the federal Highway Trust Fund from Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon.

The Congressional Budget Office reported in 2013 that the federal trust fund won’t be able to meet its obligations starting in the 2015 federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 without action by Congress.

Malfabon said the failure of Congress to act on the road funding issue would be a major hit to the state’s road construction and maintenance efforts. The state gets about $320 million a year now in federal funding, but he did not have an estimate on what the reduction would be in the next federal budget year if there was no action. It would be significant, he said.

Sandoval said a depleted highway trust fund is a huge concern.

“That would be devastating to our ability to get projects out there and maintain the roads in the state of Nevada,” he said. “Congress has been made aware by the states that we really need some certainty in this process in order to be able to retain contractors and plan for the future.”

The state highway money is needed to provide a match to a federal grant worth $1.4 million over two years. The research would be conducted over four years.