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July 28, 2014

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Transportation:

Millions for maglev: So, where’s the money?

It’s coming, but not when and perhaps not for what Gibbons announced

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

The $45 million that the governor claimed was headed to Nevada to help pay for a maglev rail project won’t arrive any time soon, federal officials said Wednesday, and in fact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is working behind the scenes to divert the funding to state road and highway projects.

How $45 million seemingly slipped from the maglev project’s grasp remains a bit of a mystery.

Gov. Jim Gibbons, who mistakenly announced last week that the money was on its way, attacked Reid and federal officials for blocking the payment.

Reid’s office said it is no secret that the majority leader is trying to reroute the $45 million — money he secured for the state in a congressional earmark. Reid switched his longtime support for maglev to a competing rail line earlier this year.

But his office insisted the senator did not ask the federal Transportation Department to slow-walk the project.

In a letter to Gibbons dated Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote that the governor’s announcement that funding was coming was mistaken.

“It has come to my attention that you were recently quoted in the media as saying that Nevada expected to receive funds this week,” LaHood wrote. “If such a statement was made, it is not accurate.”

This launched Gibbons on the attack, saying that the train project is being blocked at a time when Nevadans need work.

“This is a jobs and tourism project. Why would anybody be standing in the way of that?” Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said. “We did not expect roadblocks from Sen. Reid, the Federal Rail Administration and the Secretary of Transportation.”

Reid lobbed a counter-attack from Washington to Carson City.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the governor to say that Sen. Reid is blocking $45 million that Reid got for the state,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

Reid announced earlier this year he was abandoning the magnetic levitation project, saying the group had taken too long to bring it to fruition. Reid instead threw his support behind the competing DesertXpress train system and made no secret of his intent to shift the $45 million to the state’s road and highway needs.

(DesertXpress is backed by Republican Sig Rogich, a Reid ally and former Gibbons adviser, and has not asked for federal grants. It will likely seek government loans.)

“Nevada is still going to get the $45 million but the money’s not going to go to maglev,” Summers said. “It’s going to other transportation projects and it’s going to put Nevadans to work.”

The federal Transportation Department attempted to stay out of the dispute.

The transportation secretary said the department is prioritizing its workload and could not estimate when it would complete its review of the maglev train proposal. The department declined to provide additional information about the status of the review.

Nevada’s Transportation Department officials said they were under the impression that the federal review was moving forward. State and federal officials met earlier this year in Washington, and the state said it was told the project was a priority for the federal department.

The state said it submitted its paperwork in the spring and e-mails this summer showed the review was under way. Kent Cooper, assistant director of engineering at the Nevada Transportation Department, said he expected the federal approval would have come sooner. “We would have thought it would have happened by now,” he said.

But Cooper acknowledged the state never received anything in writing from the feds estimating when the money might arrive.

One issue has been maglev backers’ ability to provide $11 million in matching funding. Reid grew frustrated with the group when it was unable to produce the money in a timely manner.

But the maglev group insists it has raised the money, and the state responded to an April letter from the group indicating the match had been secured.

Burns, the governor’s spokesman, said it was a “stunning coincidence” that the transportation secretary now cannot say when the money will be available.

He acknowledged the governor jumped the gun in announcing last week that the money was on the way. It was “premature” and perhaps the news release should have said the state “will receive” the funds, Burns said.

How those funds will be spent when they arrive remains up for debate.

Sun Carson Bureau chief Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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