Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 | 2 a.m.
As debate over the size and scope of a federal stimulus bill intensifies in Washington, regional leaders could soon be engaged in a turf war for their piece of the pie.
Local jurisdictions have compiled lengthy wish lists of potentially “shovel-ready” projects, or those that could be under construction within 180 days. Among them: a $200 million project to build a more efficient ramp from the airport connector onto eastbound Interstate 215, $63 million in regional road repair and, of course, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s proposed $60 million mob museum downtown — a request that is being roundly rejected on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, the day an $825 billion stimulus bill was pitched by House Democrats, Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine submitted a lengthy list of projects — including the mob museum — to the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition. The coalition, an area advisory group, approved the list, passing it on to the state’s congressional delegation.
An early economic study by market research firm Applied Analysis found that if all 348 projects were to be undertaken, they would support $3.38 billion in wage and salary payments, as well as $7.77 billion in aggregate economic activity. That would mean for every $1 spent on infrastructure, $1.56 would pass through the county economy.
Leading House and Senate Democrats have pledged a stimulus bill devoid of earmarks, or specified projects.
The House Democrats’ stimulus plan boasts investments in energy, education, health care and jobs-rich highway construction, at a time when states — including Nevada — are slashing budgets, noted David Cherry, a spokesman for Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley. The Senate is expected to introduce its own stimulus package soon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants a recovery bill ready for the president’s signature by mid-February.
Some stimulus funding could be immediately available. Congressional staffers say the House bill, proposed by Wisconsin Democrat Dave Obey, appears to indicate a mix of direct disbursement to local jurisdictions and a competitive grant process. The United States Conference of Mayors is pushing hard for direct access to the money.
That’s a channel preferred by Goodman and Henderson’s city manager.
“It gives you more certainty and it gets those stimulus projects moving faster,” said Mary Kay Peck, Henderson’s city manager. “You want it to be effective? Cut out a layer.”
But if a competitive process remains, one Washington lobbyist with ties to Nevada anticipates a feeding frenzy among adjacent jurisdictions here. Peck and County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, however, doubt there will be much jockeying. Giunchigliani hopes Reid will bring a haul of dollars back to Nevada, and expects area cities and the county to prioritize projects by tiers as a way to determine which projects should go forward first.
Prioritizing has yet to get under way, local representatives and officials with the Nevada Transportation Department said this week, citing unanswered questions out of Washington. For example, will Congress dictate that construction money be reserved for projects that can be buildable within 120 days? If so, cities and the county would have to whittle their collective list projects down because some require six months to be ready.
Potential Nevada infrastructure projects (including some not included on Valentine’s list) that could receive full or partial stimulus funding, according to area city and transportation officials, include:
• $375 million for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
• $167 million for a new Las Vegas city hall.
• $135.9 million for a new city hall downtown campus in North Las Vegas.
• $250 million to add an extra lane in both directions on Interstate 15 between Blue Diamond Road and Tropicana Avenue.
• $175 million to widen U.S. 95 between Rainbow Boulevard and Ann Road.
• $200 million to improve the airport connector south of the tunnel at I-215. Today, drivers proceeding toward Henderson from McCarran International Airport and Paradise Road merge from two lanes onto one, which sharply curves right as a cloverleaf. The county proposes a softer-turning ramp from the connector onto the freeway, as well as an additional lane in each direction on I-215 between that interchange and Warm Springs Road.
• $82 million to complete the beltway between Decatur Boulevard and North Fifth Street. Traffic flow along this part of the beltway is now restricted by traffic lights.
• $63 million to repave thoroughfares. Some of the county’s more deficient roads would get preferential treatment if all, or part, of this project is funded. Seven roads are expected to be favored: Pecos Road, between Russell and Viking roads and again between El Dorado Lane and Sunset Road; Bermuda Road between Hidden Well Road and Sunset; Decatur between Gary Avenue and Pebble Road; Nellis Boulevard between Russell and Tropicana; Maryland Parkway between King Richard Avenue and Sahara Avenue; Carey Avenue between Pecos and Lamb Boulevard; and Palm Street between Emerald and Helaman avenues.
• $18 million for a new fleet maintenance facility in Henderson to repair and maintain city vehicles.
The $55 million request for the mob museum, referred to as the “Las Vegas Historic Post Office Museum Rehabilitation” for its previous use, also appears in a list of recommendations the U.S. Conference of Mayors unveiled last month. That roll cites examples of “Main Street” projects that could quickly invigorate local economies and create jobs — in contrast, says one official with the mayors group, with the $700 billion bailout, which thus far has largely aided banks.
Based on that reasoning, Goodman has argued that the mob museum should win support because it could lure a quarter-million tourists downtown annually as part of a redeveloped district. But Reid, who supports the project, this week nixed the notion of using stimulus dollars for it, saying such use would amount to an earmark.