County balks at Strip bridges

CARSON CITY – Already at loggerheads over $102 million the state took from them to fill budget holes in 2009, Clark County officials are refusing to assume ownership and $1 million-a-year maintenance costs of state-operated escalators on the Strip.

But the latest funding dispute comes with some sugar: If the county takes over the pedestrian escalators, the state will pick up ownership and maintenance of the Las Vegas Beltway, state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said.

Martinovich told the Transportation Board on Monday that the county has balked at a Nevada Department of Transportation request to take over pedestrian overpass escalators at Tropicana Avenue and the Strip. She and other state officials said the county wants as much as $12 million before it will accept their ownership and maintenance.

The agency estimates it would cost $16 million to replace them. The escalators were built in 1993 and have frequent breakdowns.

"They are trying to hold out until we have to replace the whole apparatus," said Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Transportation Board.

ROAD TRADE IDEA SNUBBED

In January, the Transportation Department announced it had received "zero interest" from cash-strapped counties in a state proposal to trade 903 miles of state-owned and -maintained roads for 270 miles of county- and city-owned roads.

For more than 10 years, the Transportation Department has been divesting itself of roads that officials think are largely used for local purposes in exchange for more regional highways they think should be maintained by the state.

Martinovich had said her agency no longer could afford the $14.5 million in annual maintenance costs for caring for roads officials think should be maintained locally.

She mentioned then the state would take the 51-mile Beltway if Clark County assumed control of Tropicana, Sahara Avenue and Flamingo Road. She made no mention of the escalators, which are the only structures on the Strip owned by the state.

The move for the Transportation Department to divest itself of the pedestrian escalators comes when the county and state already are facing off in court. Earlier this month, the county sued Sandoval and the state, demanding it be repaid $102 million taken by the Legislature in 2009 to plug state budget holes.

AGENCY SEEKS LEGISLATIVE ACTION

Current law prevents the Transportation Department from foisting roads and structures such as the escalators onto local governments without approval by local officials. But the Transportation Department is drafting a bill to allow such trades without local approval. The bill would be considered by the Legislature next year.

Sandoval urged the Transportation Department and the attorney general’s office to continue working on an escalator trade with Clark County. He said the county has been avoiding taking over the escalators for nearly 10 years.

County Director of Public Works Denis Cederburg said the county does not want the $12 million but for the state first to repair the escalators and elevators and bring them up to good condition before it makes a trade. That cost several years ago was estimated at $12 million.

The county owns and operates pedestrian overpasses along the Strip at Flamingo, Harmon Avenue and Spring Mountain Road. Because the escalators are open to the weather and run day and night, he said, they are costly to maintain.

"I cannot challenge their estimates, but we would do our own estimates," added Cederburg, before they would consider a trade for the Tropicana escalators. "They are the oldest we have on the Strip."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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