Better highways can diversify economy


Infrastructure was an under-the-radar issue during the 2013 Legislature, which got its biggest headlines out of lightning-rod policy issues ranging from gay marriage to illegal immigration, from coal-fired power to guns. Lawmakers should have spent more time discussing the state’s capital needs and their importance to the state’s economic development efforts.

Yes, the Legislature passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 413, which allows the Clark County Commission to raise the gasoline tax and index future increases to inflation to fund needed road projects in Southern Nevada. That same bill places two questions on the 2016 ballot, one to continue or kill the county gas tax increase, and one to increase the state gas tax to fund Nevada Department of Transportation projects.

But those votes won’t come soon enough. Nevada’s push to grow and diversify its economy might depend on them.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development just released a report that says the state’s infrastructure is inadequate to make Las Vegas an “inland port,” or large-scale distribution center for shipped goods. Worse, the valley is located close enough to competing metropolitan areas but far enough from existing ports to make it unappealing to trucking, railroad and logistics businesses. The study was authorized by legislation passed in 2011.

The distance between Las Vegas and points south, east and north won’t shrink, but travel times can be reduced if highways are widened and improved. And make no mistake, those roads will only get busier in the years ahead, as commercial traffic increases from both Arizona and California.

Arizona has invested billions of dollars in its highways, not only to keep up with population growth, but to handle commercial traffic from California and Mexico. The state has identified about $50 billion in highway and bridge needs over the next 25 years to continue to grow its economy. That includes major projects to complete Interstate 11 and link Phoenix to Las Vegas with a seamless freeway.

Nevada has made its share of work on the I-11 project a decidedly low priority. That has to change. It’s not enough to improve roads so Southern Nevadans can get around more quickly. We must invest in our freeways so tourists can get here and commerce can come through here. Economic growth will follow.

“Every time we see something that’s tough to do, we walk away,” Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, said in response to the inland port report. “I’m sorry, but if we want to make a difference, if we really want to diversify the economy, we have to take on the tough stuff and do them.”

Exactly. The discussion needs to restart now.

 

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