Creativity and road building

Nevadans are used to being told they’ve just “come in last” in some national ranking or other.

They’ve also learned to take such assertions with a grain of salt, given that many such “rankings” are drummed up by bureaucrats looking for more tax funding — the standard gimmick being to erroneously conflate spending with results.

But there really are some areas where Nevada lags behind the kind of innovative solutions being tried elsewhere, and they’re usually in areas where local special interests have a stranglehold on the Legislature.

School choice is one such example. Or, take toll roads, increasingly emerging “as the go-to strategy for states and metro areas eager to build and maintain expressways amid a recession that has battered government budgets,” as USA Today reported Tuesday.

The governors of Illinois and Indiana in June signed an agreement to move forward with the Illiana Expressway, a toll road that would connect Interstate 65 in Indiana with Interstates 55 and 57 in Illinois. And authorities in Louisville and southern Indiana recently said tolls could generate more than half the $4.1 billion needed to build two new bridges across the Ohio River and refurbish a major highway interchange, where drivers currently pay no toll.

But here in Nevada? The idea is repeatedly stillborn.

The new Hoover Dam bridge will soon open — eventually dumping traffic onto an old two-lane access road that winds its way around Boulder City. With the state Department of Transportation strapped for money, the sensible solution would have been to allow a private firm to finance construction of a new connector — earning back their investment by charging tolls. Local Assemblyman Joe Hardy repeatedly proposed legislation authorizing private construction of a modern, $500 million toll road around Boulder City: Do nothing and traffic jams will become brutal as soon as the new bridge opens this fall, he warns.

The property for the bypass is owned by Boulder City and the BLM, and both entities have agreed to deed the property to the state to construct the bypass. But the Legislature keeps saying “No.”

Political opposition to slapping tolls on existing roads — roads for which motorists figure they’ve already paid with their gasoline taxes — is understandable. But lawmakers in Carson City have declined to even let NDOT study how tolling could help fund such a project — perhaps by charging tolls only for heavy, interstate commercial trucks.

Besides, the Boulder City bypass would answer one of toll opponents’ major objections, since those wishing to avoid paying for some added speed and convenience would still be free to cross the river in Laughlin, toll-free.

As bloated government budgets hemorrhage left and right, allowing more efficient private firms to again build and maintain such facilities is the wave of the future. Except in Nevada, of course.

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