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Lack of Nevada tax breaks for high-speed rail line hurts project

After picking up steam when Virgin and Brightline came on board last year, the high-speed rail project from Las Vegas to Southern California has experienced another delay, which could prove detrimental to the entire project.

Virgin Trains USA representatives spent over a month at the Nevada Legislature lobbying for a partial tax abatement to get the $4 billion plan in motion, but they left Carson City empty-handed.

Virgin was seeking partial tax exemptions related to business and sales taxes, though the portion of those taxes slated for schools would still have been paid. Bob O’Malley, Virgin Trains’ vice president of government affairs, said it was all but likely the project would not occur unless the company gets the tax breaks it was seeking.

Since the project is not using public money and is being entirely privately financed, and given the state’s record of handing out tax abatements to other large projects, it seemed like the long-hoped-for rail line would be a no-brainer to approve.

Yes, the initial route running between Las Vegas and Victorville, California, isn’t as attractive as a train running all the way through to Los Angeles. But that could prove to be a large driver of visitors to the Las Vegas Valley, as officials view the project as being more of a benefit to Las Vegas than to Southern California.

The long-term plans do include connecting into Los Angeles, but those plans will never develop if the first 185-mile section of track isn’t laid.

The rail line took on more importance with the development of the Las Vegas Stadium down the road from one of the proposed sites for a rail station. About 40 percent of the fans expected to attend Raiders games will be from outside Las Vegas, with many from Southern California driving up Interstate 15.

“I-15 is a huge problem and once the stadium is built it’s going to be an even bigger problem,” said Danny Thompson, a lobbyist who represents various labor unions and other groups. “This is truly something that needs to be done.”

With little desire from California to make anything happen regarding widening I-15 between Las Vegas and Barstow and with traffic along the corridor only getting worse, the rail line seems like a viable option to relieve some of the vehicle traffic.

Virgin Trains estimates the high-speed rail project would remove up to 4.5 million cars off I-15 per year.

Even if its numbers overstate the possible impact, taking any sizable amount of traffic off the road would be a plus.

The Virgin Trains team plans to be back in Carson City for the 2021 session to again look to obtain the desired tax abatements, which they said will result in at least a two-year delay in the project’s start.

If the abatements had been approved this session, the project could have been well on it’s way to Victorville by then, but instead it remains docked, as it has for the better part of the decade.

Spring Mountain I-15 ramps

A road project will affect traffic for much of this week on Spring Mountain Road and related I-15 ramps.

Temporary closures are needed for milling and paving improvements as part of a $427,000 upgrade, the Nevada Department of Transportation announced last week.

The following ramp impacts along I-15 at Spring Mountain will occur:

Sunday night-Monday morning

— The I-15 southbound exit to Spring Mountain Road westbound will be closed from 10 p.m. Sunday until 6 a.m. Monday.

Monday night-Tuesday morning

The closures will occur from 10 p.m. Monday until 6 a.m. Tuesday.

— Two outside travel lanes along Spring Mountain eastbound near I-15 will be closed.

— The Spring Mountain on-ramp to I-15 southbound will be closed.

Tuesday night-Wednesday morning

Closures will occur from 10 p.m. Tuesday until 6 a.m. Wednesday.

— Two outside travel lanes along Spring Mountain eastbound near I-15 will be closed.

— The Spring Mountain on-ramp to I-15 northbound will be closed.

Wednesday night-Thursday morning

Closures will occur from 10 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday.

— Two outside travel lanes along Spring Mountain eastbound near I-15 will be closed.

— The eastbound Spring Mountain on-ramps to I-15 north and southbound will be closed.

Thursday night-Friday morning

Closures will occur from 10 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday

— The I-15 southbound exit to Spring Mountain westbound will be closed.

Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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