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Road money destination: paving projects

CARSON CITY — The state’s transportation director said Tuesday that almost all of the $201 million in highway funds Nevada expects to receive under the federal stimulus act would be spent on maintaining existing pavement.

Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich told the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committee that her agency needs to spend as much as $600 million on pavement preservation projects, which generally entail placing a 3-inch overlay on deteriorating roadway.

Her agency has more than $1 billion in other projects that meet the federal criteria that stimulus funds be spent on “shovel ready” highway construction. Most are in the Las Vegas area, including widening Interstate 15 from Primm to Las Vegas and U.S. Highway 95 from Rainbow Boulevard to Ann Road, at a cost of $20 million to $30 million per mile.

At that rate, the $201 million in stimulus funds would be enough to add only one additional lane on seven to 10 miles of freeway in Southern Nevada. The stimulus act, however, requires that the money be divided on a geographic basis, including spending in rural Nevada.

“This $200 million isn’t going to solve our needs,” said Assembly Transportation Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas. “It is a drop in the bucket. But we are thankful for it.”

No legislator expressed any objections to Martinovich’s plans for spending the money.

The director said that under the stimulus act, Nevada also will receive $49 million for rapid transit rail projects. A Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles high-speed rail project could be eligible for these funds, she said.

According to department estimates, the state is about $8 billion to $10 billion short of construction funding for needed highway projects. It typically has about $700 million annually in state and federal funds for road construction.

Martinovich noted that the $201 million actually is slightly less than what the state receives each year from the federal government for highway projects.

“Our strategy is to use all our regular money, all of the stimulus money and to apply for additional money,” she said.

Her presentation on how the department intends to use the stimulus funds came only hours after President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion bill into law. The transportation money should be available to Nevada within 21 days. Then the state has another 120 days to submit to federal highway authorities its plans on spending at least half of the $201 million. Within a year, the state must have submitted plans on how it would spend all the stimulus funds.

Within 10 to 12 weeks, work on some of the maintenance projects could begin. “That is our plan,” she said.

According to national studies, about 35,000 to 47,500 people will be put to work with each $1 billion in stimulus fund spending. That would mean 7,000 to 9,500 people would find work through the Nevada highway funds.

Atkinson emphasized that he wants Nevadans, not people from other states, gaining jobs through the state stimulus funds. Martinovich said that was her goal, too.

“My concern is there will be a shortage of contractors,” said Martinovich, noting other states also are receiving the funds and also will rush to put people to work. “It is going to be a challenge.”

Atkinson said that he understands Nevada also could be eligible for $20 million in highway funds for disadvantaged business enterprises.

That would mean that Nevada would receive $270 million in total rail and transportation funds.

ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization, reported earlier Tuesday that states with high unemployment rates such as Nevada are being short-changed in their receipt of highway funds through the stimulus law.

The organization reported Nevada’s $270 million in total transportation funds is $2,369 per unemployed worker. That is the worst return per unemployed worker in the nation.

In contrast, Nebraska, with has less than half the unemployment of Nevada, will receive $278 million, or $7,644 per unemployed worker, according to ProPublica.

Martinovich had no comment when shown the ProPublica findings. But in response to questions during the transportation hearing, she said that Congress had used existing highway distribution fund formulas in determining the stimulus funds for each state.

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

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