O'er The Lanes Of The Free

This week, readers celebrate the Fourth of July by calling for the greatest of U.S. traditions: taxes for anybody but us. Specifically, a reader asks if we can suck some bucks out of Californians before they hit their first slot machines here.

And the Road Warrior finds some places where it's better to be an American when topping off the tank at the ol' Gas 'n Go.

Sean Finnegan asks: Has anyone proposed a tax on cars entering Nevada from California? If you have California plates, expect to pay to drive into Vegas.

I've heard the same idea on the grass-roots level, but I don't know of any formal proposals, or whether it would even be legal to tax only those from Cali. Besides, what would all those Nevadans who have refused to abandon their Golden State plates do?

I suppose they could always get Nevada plates as the law requires, but you know that will never happen.

During this year's Legislature, an idea was floated that would allow limited tolling on the Interstate 15 corridor between Las Vegas and the California border.

The plan, first publicly broached by U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and discussed among Nevada Department of Transportation officials and legislators, would have called for the construction of new "express" lanes along I-15 toward Los Angeles.

Drivers choosing to use those lanes would pay a fee, while the existing I-15 lanes would remain toll-free for those unwilling to pay and go.

Such so-called "Lexus lanes" have been in limited use elsewhere. In the Southwest, some I-15 lanes have had such tolls near San Diego.

"Why not allow our visitors to share in the expense?" Porter told the Legislature on April 5. "If we don't do something about those byways, we will be out of business."

Even anti-tax Gov. Jim Gibbons was on board with the concept. "If they want to add a lane (emphasis mine) ... and give people a choice, OK," he said in April. But he added this caveat: "I am not going to make people pay a toll on a road that is now free."

Similar sentiments have been offered for financing construction of a U.S. Highway 93 bypass around Boulder City, where the existing U.S. 93 would remain in place for drivers wanting a free drive, while a faster bypass around the city's southern end would be financed by tolls paid by drivers using the new expressway.

In this year's Legislature, there were two measures that called for tolling: Assembly Bill 417 and Senate Bill 392. Both would have authorized the creation of toll roads. The former would have required an alternate free route be available for drivers; the latter was later watered-down to a proposal calling for further study.

And both plans would have allowed the state to explore so-called "private-public" partnerships, where the state could lease or sell rights to a road, which private investors would build on their own dime and be allowed to collect tolls to finance construction, the franchise fee to government, and make a profit.

Both died in committees before the Legislature adjourned last month.

State Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said a toll road plan was "way premature" and "this would be a burden on people."

After legislators went home for the year, Gibbons said he expects the concepts to be revived and discussed when the Legislature next meets in 2009.

Until then, at least, you're free to drive I-15 or any other Silver State street, whether you're a Nevadan or not.

Hit 'n' Run: Nobody likes gasoline prices that are around the $3 per gallon mark in Southern Nevada. But at least we're not in southern England, where a gallon of gas was selling for more than $8 per gallon in the spring, reported the Reuters news service via USA Today. Then again, in Venezuela drivers were paying a sweet 19 cents a gallon.

Other per-gallon international gas prices reported by the newspaper include those in Germany ($6.72), France ($6.50), Ireland ($5.40), Japan ($4.16), Russia ($2.68), Mexico ($2.38), China ($2.19) and Saudi Arabia (45 cents).

By the way, The Associated Press recently reported they're rioting in Iran over gasoline rationing, which followed a 25 percent increase in that nation's heavily subsidized retail gas prices. A gallon of Texas Tea in Tehran these days goes for a whopping 38 cents or so. Tough noogies for them.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or OSofradzija@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.