Senate leader upbeat about F Street reopening

CARSON CITY — Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said Tuesday that he does not expect Gov. Jim Gibbons to veto his bill to require the city of Las Vegas and the Nevada Department of Transportation to commit as much as $70 million to reopen F Street under Interstate 15.

“Why should he (veto it)?” said Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “There isn’t a (state) general fund impact, and it was mutually agreed on by the city and NDOT.”

The Assembly approved Horsford-added amendments to Assembly Bill 304 on Saturday and sent the bill to the governor for his signature. The bill passed the Senate 19-2 and the Assembly 42-0.

But there were no assurances Tuesday from the governor’s office that the bill would be signed.

Daniel Burns, Gibbons’ communications director, said the governor must review the bill in detail before he decides to sign or veto it.

“That seems like a lot of money,” Burns said. “There might be a better use for $70 million.”

Even if Gibbons signs the bill or allows it to become law, state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich does not expect the street to reopen for four or five years.

The bill was sparked by residents of the historically black community of West Las Vegas, some of whom said the street was closed to wall them off from downtown.

Under the bill, the city of Las Vegas would use $2.5 million in redevelopment funds to design changes to the existing I-15 widening project to allow the reopening of F Street on the edge of West Las Vegas.

Then, in July 2011, the city would put up $20 million more out of its capital improvements project budget toward reopening the street. That money comes from property taxes.

NDOT would be required to pay the remaining $20 million to $50 million to cover other redesign costs and any additional funding required for the reopening.

Some changes would have to be made to the existing freeway widening project where it passes through West Las Vegas, the area generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, I-15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.

Under the bill, the state also would have to make reopening the street one of its high-priority projects and try to seek federal funds for construction.

Martinovich said the bill would force the delay of other highway projects in Clark County. She said the Regional Transportation Commission would decide which projects go forward and which projects do not.

She said the state Transportation Board, chaired by Gibbons, accepts Regional Transportation Commission funding priorities.

Martinovich said the state is applying for federal stimulus funds for highway projects, including for changes to the I-15 widening project to accommodate the F Street reopening.

“If there is no new money found and it is still a priority to reopen F Street, that means something else does not get done,” she said.

A lawsuit has been filed by West Las Vegas residents to stop the closure.

Horsford added the F Street reopening proposal to a bill on the preservation of historical neighborhoods.

The so-called Westside was where blacks first settled in the 1920s and 1930s when most of Las Vegas was segregated.

“This isn’t the first time a street was closed without ample notice,” Horsford said at a hearing. “Nothing is going to matter if people can’t get in and out of our community.”

But NDOT released a statement that three public hearings were conducted in 2004 and 2005 in the neighborhood about the freeway project and the F Street closure.

Las Vegas City Manager Elizabeth Fretwell said the city agreed to support the bill because it offered a better option than Horsford’s original plan, which would have taken $70 million in city redevelopment funds for the reopening of the street.

“The compromise is something that basically in my mind brings the state to the table and the city to the table,” she said.

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

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