State board appears leery of $3.5 million path, precedent

As members of the State Board of Transportation ready themselves to hear Carson City's multi-use path issue this Tuesday, there appears to be one thing weighing heavily in their minds: Las Vegas.

"The congestion in Las Vegas, no matter what road you're on, is far more debilitating than in Carson City," transportation board member Father Ceasar Caviglia said.

"We increase the city by Carson's population (about 50,000) every 10 months. When you get congestion like that, people think its a driveway not a highway. Then you have more problems than esthetics."

The fastest growing city in the country is congested and the $3.5 million needed to add a path to the freeway, not to mention potential landscaping costs, might be needed in Las Vegas.

"I don't think there's anyone who's not in favor of it," transportation board member Jim Thornton said. "Probably everyone would like to have the path. The only thing I want to know is how it will be paid for.

"We have such problems in Nevada. There are places in Southern Nevada where it's gridlock. Traffic literally doesn't move. Every penny is important and there is a tremendous shortfall of money. There are many things that can be done with $3.5 million."

Not only is the money needed in other areas in Nevada, but, "If we set one precedent, you can imagine what will happen in the rest of the state," member Tom Gust said.

"The path would be absolutely wonderful, but whether or not it could happen I don't know. I've got over 150 letters on this. It's obviously a big issue.

"Anytime there is an amenity that will help any of us, I like to see it happen. But we have the whole state to look at, too. Sometimes we can't always do what may seem right to some."

Gust said as much support as there is for the path, he remembers former Mayor Marv Teixeira coming to every state meeting in the early 1990s, begging for the freeway to be built. Eventually, the city passed a five-cent gas tax to contribute about $20 million over 15 years to help push the freeway up the list of important projects.

"That impressed me," Gust said. "I thought, 'Wow, these people want this. They're willing to put their money where their mouth is. That couldn't have been easy for them.' This is a tough, tough decision."

Caviglia said it was hard for the state to find the money to build the bypass in the first place.

"We moved heaven and hell to get the money for the bypass to go through," he said. "We moved it because Carson is the capital. I've got tons of letters (about the path.) I've never felt so popular. But how much money do we have? We have a whole state system that needs to be maintained."

The State Transportation Board is chaired by Gov. Kenny Guinn with members Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, State Controller Kathy Augustine, Caviglia, Gust and Thornton.

When the state approved the Carson bypass in 1996, the freeway was estimated to cost $76 million. Those costs are to be considered Tuesday have gone up to $136 million for Phase 1.

"We need to put this in context of the larger project itself," Del Papa said. "This project is now up to $136 million. We have transportation needs all over this state, and we are faced with difficult decisions.

"What can you not fund? We're supportive of what local people want, but what you do for one, you have to do for others in similar circumstances."

Carson City recently has pressed the state to pay for the path, originally estimated at $7.5 million, when the state announced it was planning to remove the path from the plan.

Because Carson is not yet part of a Metropolitan Planning Organization - a federal designation allotted for areas with 50,000 or more residents - the state adopted the city's bicycle plan as its own and can change it.

The state's bike plan shows the path along the freeway. In order for up to 95 percent of Federal Highway Administration money for the freeway project to be approved, the freeway project would have to conform to this plan. With the high cost of the path as originally envisioned, the state decided to pull it and proceed with the design of Phase 1B of the freeway.

The move caused local groups to fight for the inclusion of the path and landscaping in the freeway's construction. State and city transportation staff worked for almost three months to lower the costs of the project to $3.5 million.

After meeting opposition from the state on the costs, city supervisors decided May 4 to ask the state to just build the retaining walls for the path and leave the rest of the construction costs to the city. The compromise, rather than the all-out insistence for a path, may sit better with the state board members, most of whom said they haven't made their minds up on the issue.

"I'm hoping for some compromise," Thornton said.

Transportation Director Tom Stephens recommends that the state build a small portion of the path and stripe bike lanes from the Lompa cul-de-sac to Carson Street via Northridge Drive, Roop Street and College Parkway.

If you go:

What: State of Nevada Department of Transportation Board of Directors meeting

When: Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Nevada Department of Transportation, 1263 Stewart St.


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