Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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EDITORIAL:

How a fight in Congress could hurt Nevada’s roadways — and much more

Partisan gridlock in Congress could cause real gridlock on the nation’s highways.

The federal fund that pays for construction on highways and interstates is drying up, and Congress has delayed a permanent fix.

The House of Representatives has passed a plan to infuse $11 billion into the Highway Trust Fund through next May, and the Senate is expected to take up the proposal this week before Congress’ annual August recess.

The plan helps, but it doesn’t address the underlying problems. For example, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax, which pays for road construction, in more than 20 years.

By the numbers

If federal highway funds are cut for Nevada, here’s what’s at stake:

• 6,000 construction jobs

• 7,000 other jobs tied with construction

• $384 million in federal funding that is poured into the economy

If lawmakers can’t agree on something, including a temporary fix, quickly, roadwork will stop sometime in August, and that will cause many problems. For example:

Higher costs

Nearly 90 percent of the freight that comes into Nevada is delivered by trucks that likely take either Interstate 15 through Clark County or Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada. If highway construction is cut or slowed, that could mean an increase in the time it takes for freight — think mail, groceries and everyday merchandise — to get here because of delays and congestion. That would mean higher shipping costs, which undoubtedly would be tacked onto the price you pay.

Longer commutes

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, Las Vegas drivers see an extra 44 hours in the car each year due to congestion. That’s the 17th highest in the nation, and it adds a cost of $906 per driver per year. If roadwork is delayed, expect more congestion, delays and higher costs, including more gas used while idling with the air conditioner on during 110-degree days. Nobody wants to spend more time on I-15 or the Spaghetti Bowl.

Car repairs

Without money to fix and maintain roads, wear and tear will become quickly evident to travelers in the form of potholes, cracks and rough roads. According to AAA, Americans already pay an estimated $324 a year in various costs due to poor road conditions, and that’s a cost that is already too high.

The economy

If Congress fails to come up with a plan, Nevada will lose out on $384 million for highway work and about 6,000 construction workers here will be out of jobs. An additional 7,000 jobs directly tied to highway construction also would be affected. Each worker spends money, supporting other businesses, so the loss has a ripple effect. Federal statistics suggest 2.7 million workers would directly be affected if highway funding isn’t approved, and that could mean fewer tourists visiting Las Vegas, which means more job losses.

The bottom line

Congress has to pass a plan in a hurry to make sure the Highway Trust Fund has money to continue operating. If it doesn’t, it would be an economic disaster that would harm Las Vegas, which isn’t what we need. Lawmakers should be diligent to make sure something gets passed for the short term before the August recess, and when they return, they should work on a more permanent fix to make sure the nation’s highway system continues to be funded.

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