Tesla fallout: RTC keeps guard on road funds

Members of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada say they’ll be keeping a watchful eye on state transportation budgets to make sure funds allocated to local highway projects don’t get hijacked to road projects supporting the proposed Tesla Motors Gigafactory.

Nevada Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon on Thursday assured commissioners that state funds — specifically those dedicated to the 3.7-mile, $1.5 billion Project Neon revamp of the Spaghetti Bowl interchange and the $50 million Interstate 11 bypass of Boulder City — wouldn’t be shifted north.

Malfabon told the board the bonding process is in place for the acquisition of right of way for both design-build projects and the state won’t deviate from that. He said separate transportation funds would be used to acquire right of way for USA Parkway, a proposed 18-mile road connecting Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50 in Lyon and Storey counties that would support the Tesla project.

Although commissioners think Malfabon is good on his word, two of them want some assurances that Northern Nevada’s exuberance over the prospect of getting Tesla’s battery factory and its 6,500 jobs won’t affect southern highway projects that are long overdue.

“I wanted it on the record that none of that money would be used for the Tesla project and that the funding for Project Neon and I-11 is safe and secure,” said Commissioner Steve Ross, a member of the Las Vegas City Council.

“As far as we’re concerned, we should have already gotten started on these projects,” he said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, a member of the Clark County Commission, said she’s concerned that the Nevada Transportation Board and the Nevada Legislature have the power to change the course of funding, and even though the RTC board has Malfabon’s assurance that he has no intent of diverting money, it might not be up to him.

“I appreciate his answer, but so much is unknown at this point,” Giunchigliani said.

She noted that the bond commitments assure the acquisition of property, but funding to build Project Neon and the Boulder City bypass hasn’t been identified.

“We don’t want to buy up all this property and knock all the buildings down and then let it sit there,” she said.

She said she doesn’t want to start a new north-south transportation turf war, but she added that residents of Southern Nevada continue to be sensitive to not getting their fair share of state funding for projects.

Malfabon acknowledged that it’s the Transportation Board and not him that makes decisions on funding priorities.

Giunchigliani said she would continue to view transportation budgets closely to protect Southern Nevada’s priority projects.

“This is going to mean keeping an eye on the next legislative session and the one after that,” she said. “The state has gotten a lot better about giving us our fair share and I think it’s about up to 50-50 now, which isn’t good, but it’s better than it was. But I’m going to be watching it all the time.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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