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December 21, 2014

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Road Projects:

Legislative committee approves $100 million bond sale for Project Neon property

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Justin M. Bowen

Project Neon will widen Interstate 15 between the Spaghetti Bowl and Sahara Avenue and will add a new ramp to connect the U.S. 95 HOV lanes with the I-15 express lanes.

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The Legislative Interim Finance Committee on Monday approved the sale of $100 million in bonds to buy property along Interstate 15 for Project Neon in Clark County, but many lawmakers are still raising questions about the financing.

Project Neon will widen I-15 from Sahara Avenue to the Spaghetti Bowl and make major changes to the arterial streets in the area.

Hours before the debate in the legislative committee, the Nevada Transportation Board approved a $453,650 three-year contract with Chapman Law Firm of Las Vegas to handle condemnation cases that would allow for acquisition of property for Project Neon.

In the finance committee meeting, Nevada Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said $100 million has already been spent for right of way for the project but posed questions about who will be paying the future costs of the $1.3 billion project, which is being undertaken to relieve traffic congestion and reduce accidents.

When the project is completed, Transportation Director Rudy Malfabons aid, the state will be committed to $34 million a year to pay for future bonds that finance the program.

Committee members, although expressing support, were concerned that other parts of the state might be shortchanged on road funding because of the cost of Project Neon. But Malfabon said he was comfortable with funding for projects all throughout Nevada.

The committee told Malfabon it wants more information on the financing, which along with building and maintaining the road, is to be undertaken by a a private company.

Malfabon promised to give the committee briefings on future movement on the project. He opposed delaying the authorization of the bond sale, saying there has been a "significant increase in property values."

Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Boulder City, said delaying the sale of the bonds would mean an increase in costs of 15-20 percent because of raising property prices.

Nevada Senate Minority Leader Michael Robertson, R-Las Vegas, said a delay would postpone the hiring of 6,000-8,000 workers for construction.

"This will not affect other projects in the state," he said.

The $100 million in bonds will be paid off with annual payments of $7 million for 20 years.

Before making the motion for approval, Kirkpatrick said all her questions have not been answered but that the Transportation Department needs to move forward. She said she would be a "hound dog," and "if one penny is misspent, I will find it."

The lone dissenting vote came from Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

"I want answers before I vote, she said. "This is spending money we don't have."

The bond sale must still be approved by the Nevada Board of Finance.

Kirkpatrick also complained during the finance committee meeting about the problems on Blue Diamond Road, where three persons have been killed recently. Malfabon said he is meeting with local lawmakers to use some money to remedy the problem.

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