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Panel takes look at toll road proposal

The concept for a 19-mile toll lane that would weave its way through Las Vegas met little resistance Wednesday from a Legislative Commission subcommittee studying transportation issues.

The subcommittee could have recommended the proposed private and public partnership project, which would give it a higher priority in the 2009 legislative session, but took no action after a presentation from Nevada transportation officials.

The subcommittee will continue to study the proposed project at an August workshop. The panel then will decide whether to recommend the project.

The plan to allow for privatized toll lanes in Las Vegas was endorsed in May by the Nevada Transportation Board.

Whether a recommendation comes from the subcommittee or not, legislation on toll lanes probably will be drafted by the governor’s office and brought before lawmakers, a transportation official said.

But the proposal needs to overcome a major hurdle: Toll roads are now illegal in Nevada.

Lawmakers must exempt the project from Nevada Revised Statute 408.5471, which prohibits toll roads or bridges.

Whether the demonstration project — which would stretch toll lanes from U.S. Highway 95 near Ann Road to Interstate 15 and from I-15 south to Interstate 215 — will garner enough support from lawmakers to be enacted in 2009 is unclear. Toll road legislation died in the 2007 session.

The chairmen of the Senate and Assembly transportation committees, Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, served on the Public-Private Partnership Advisory Panel, which recommended the project to the state transportation board.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, asked whether the time was right for a demonstration project. Gasoline tax revenues are falling, and more people are seeking other means of transportation.

Transportation Department Director Susan Martinovich said, “I think this is the right time because it puts us in a position to maximize and utilize any opportunity that we have.”

She said the toll lanes would allow transit buses to use the lanes without paying and added that alternative modes of transportation such as light rail should be looked at also. But those alternatives are “very, very expensive.”

The demonstration project toll lanes would remain free for emergency vehicles, transit buses and for cars with three or more passengers. A fee would be charged for vehicles with one or two persons.

The amount of the fee has not been decided, but state officials have speculated that it could be as little as 10 cents per mile during off-peak travel times and as much as $1 per mile during peak travel times.

The plan calls for flyover lanes connecting I-15 and U.S. 95, and motorists using the toll lanes could avoid onramps and offramps at the Spaghetti Bowl.

Private investment would cover nearly all of the costs of the project, about $1.4 billion, and the annual $1 million maintenance fee.

Officials estimate private investors could recoup their expenses and receive an estimated 13 percent rate of return in about 50 years, after which the toll lanes would be turned over to the state.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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