Governor stalls bike path decision

Gov. Kenny Guinn offered Tuesday to broker a compromise on Carson City's controversial biking-hiking path that would allow it to be built along with a freeway through the capital city.

"There's a way to mitigate this, and I'm willing to take my time for it," Guinn said. "Rather than say we're not going to do something, we're looking for a creative solution. It's a matter of creativity that creates cooperation."

Guinn's idea, outlined at a State Transportation Board meeting, appeared to catch nearly everyone by surprise. The plan centers on saving money for the freeway project by using city- and state-owned land for drainage, rather than buying land for drainage basins.

Guinn cut city and state staff out of the negotiations, forming a two-man committee of himself and Carson City Mayor Ray Masayko to hammer out a solution.

"Everything is still on the table, at least in my mind," Masayko said. "We didn't get into the specific details. Give the governor credit for creativity to diffuse the situation. I'm very comfortable that this will be some sort of give-and-take relationship. It's going to solve some problems that would have taken the bureaucracy a long time to work through."

Guinn's plan does put extra funding for the Carson City freeway on hold, but it also could iron out other problems threatening to escalate the $136 million cost of the freeway's first phase. It also would bypass the precedent-setting status of the controversial path.

There is no guarantee his proposal will work, Guinn said. He said his proposal sidesteps the precedent that could be set by building the path because Carson City, with the land trade and possibly money, would be helping with the costs.

"At that point we could ask other communities, 'What are you bringing to the table?'" Guinn said.

Guinn's idea calls for Carson City to help defray costs of drainage for the freeway by providing some land near Fifth Street.

The drainage plan for the freeway pulls water collected from north Carson City into large box culverts under the freeway. The water would then flow into a detention basin proposed for the Lompa wetlands south of Highway 50 and east of the freeway's route.

No estimate was available from the Nevada Department of Transportation on Tuesday on how many acres of the Lompa wetlands were needed for the drainage plan. Negotiations for the land in question are under way.

However, if the state can design a system to transport the water away from the wetlands to state- and city-owned land a few miles away near Fifth Street, right-of-way costs that would have been spent on the land in the Lompa wetlands could be spent on the multi-use path and landscaping without raising the cost of the freeway.

Masayko said the city has roughly 50 acres of land in the area that could be used.

Cutting the right of way costs may be a necessity, especially in light of a recent decision which valued land in south Carson City around $847,000 an acre. The state has estimated the land at the Lompa wetlands at $20,000 an acre.

"Nobody believes we're going to get that land for that cheap," Guinn said.

There was concern from the state that if the bike path issue wasn't resolved Tuesday, final design and the bid date for the next phase of the project would be delayed. Transportation Director Tom Stephens said with Guinn's proposal, the questions over what to do with the Lompa wetlands would be solved as well as issues surrounding the path.

"This does not hold up the project," Stephens said. "This is going to hit two birds with one stone if it works out."

Guinn's proposal put on hold a decision to increase funding for the freeway's first phase from roughly $80 million to $136 million. The project was estimated originally at $76 million, with a $19 million contribution from the city. Much of the cost increase is related to items requested by the city such as flood mitigation, interchanges and utility work, Stephens said.

Guinn's proposal also went against a motion from Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa that the state offer no more than $1.7 million to help build the $3.4 million path and landscaping estimated at $2 million.

Del Papa said she was trying to bridge the gap between Stephens' proposal to stripe bike lanes and the city's resolution that they would pay for most of the path if the state stepped in with some money.

"I was trying to go basically for the 50/50 proposal," she said. "The governor thinks there might be a way to do all of this more economically. If he's right, great. We may not have to get down to who pays for what. By putting those 50 acres on the table, who knows how much can be saved?

"Part of what this whole debate illustrates is it's important to show early on who will pay for what. There is great merit to having these conversations."

More than a dozen area residents spoke in the two and a half hour session before the state transportation board, all but one advocating the path and landscaping.

Landscaping advocates want the state to commit to at least providing topsoil on the freeway's slopes capable of hosting native plant life.

Bike and pedestrian advocates encouraged the state to set a policy that would increase spending on non-motorized facilities.

The state board meets again in July, but Guinn said he didn't know if the details of his plan would be worked out by then.

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