Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Lawyers: U.S. 95 toll lanes run afoul of constitution

State has spent $5 million on plan, but future is uncertain

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U.S. 95 cuts through the northwest Las Vegas Valley, with the 215 Beltway in the top of the image. State lawyers on Thursday said a plan to add toll lanes to the road could be unconstitutional.

State lawyers raised the specter Thursday that plans to build toll lanes along U.S. 95 in Las Vegas are unconstitutional.

Legislative Counsel Bureau staff pointed out that the constitution requires that fees or other charges to use public highways must go to construction, maintenance or repair of public highways.

That realization seemed to stun lobbyists, lawmakers and Nevada Department of Transportation staff, who have been working on a bill that would allow the state's first toll demonstration project.

It's unclear if the constitutional problem will be a speed bump or a road block in those plans.

Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said she believes legislation could be worded to allow toll roads and still comply with the constitution.

The current plan, called the "Pioneer Program," would convert the existing HOV lane on U.S. 95 and add an additional lane between Ann Road and the Las Vegas Beltway.

Martinovich testified that the state has spent about $5 million already on consultants and studies.

A public-private partnership board created by Gov. Jim Gibbons has been studying the toll road issue.

The state Senate's Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee heard SB206, sponsored by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, layed out general policies for toll roads.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, warned of the dangers of entering into public-private partnerships to pay for roads.

"If you get in bed with guys on Wall Street, they’re sharks," Schneider told Martinovich. "The don’t get involved unless they know they’re going to be pulling out hundreds of millions of dollars."

Lee said he would work with interested parties to amend the bill, and would bring it back to the committee.

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