STATEMENT OF TOM STEPHENS, DIRECTOR,
NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Tom Stephens. For the past seven years I have been the Director of the Nevada Department of Transportation and I am here to testify today on behalf of the State of Nevada. I just completed a term as the President of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO) and will testify on the Western Governor’s Association (WGA) policy statement on reauthorization of TEA-21 which I helped coordinate. I am also on the executive Board of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and worked closely with them on the reauthorization of ISTEA as well as in formulation of their position on the reauthorization of TEA-21.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify to you again on a matter of great importance to the nation and to the State of Nevada. I want to commend you for seeking a western perspective on the issues involved in the reauthorization of TEA-21. One size does not fit all and the west is considerably different than the rest of the country.
I especially want to thank Senator Reid for his leadership on highway issues. His work has not only benefited Nevada, but also the nation as a whole.
While Nevada faces many of the same transportation issues as other states it is also unique in a number of ways. Nevada is and has been the nation’s fastest growing state for many, many years. With a growth rate of 66% in the past decade it is far ahead of second place Arizona, which is at 40%, and Colorado, Utah and Idaho, which complete the top five growth states at around 30%. (See attached U.S. map showing percentage growth of the states from 1990-2000.) Like many of our neighbors in the west, Nevada has a high percentage of federally owned lands. In fact, with 87% of our state federally owned, Nevada has the highest percentage of federal land ownership. These lands, which are not on the tax rolls, must be accessed and crossed with the highway system. (See attached maps of Federal Land Ownership in Nevada and the continental U. S.)
Nevadans recognize the tremendous national and stated need for a good transportation system and the costs this need creates. The State Transportation Board is chaired by the Governor and has three other statewide elected officials (Lt. Governor, Attorney General and State Controller) as well as three appointed members. No other state has its Governor as a member of its transportation board. Local and state fuel taxes are high compared to most states, vehicle registration taxes are high, and there is menu of local taxes collected to support transportation projects (e.g. taxes on new homes and commercial development, hotel room taxes, vehicle registration taxes, sales taxes and jet fuel taxes). I doubt that any other state has the level of support that Nevada provides to transportation from in-state taxes. However, this is not enough to meet the increasing needs and we need an increase in the federal funding to match the growth of the state.
Today my remarks will emphasize the highway needs in Northern Nevada. The issues are preservation, safety and congestion. We must maintain the system, which is deteriorating with age and greatly increased truck loading at the same time we address the congestion issues in the urban areas created by the tremendous population increase. Most of the heavy trucking is on the interstate and most of the interstate mileage is in Northern Nevada. (i.e. 411 miles on I-80 versus 124 miles on I-15) Safety is a big issue that we address through better maintenance and reducing congestion as well as addressing high hazard areas. Highway fatalities are up 20% this year over last year and this will translate in 60 more deaths on Nevada highways this year as compared to last. Some do not consider that Northern Nevada is growing very fast compared to Southern Nevada and therefore congestion issues in the North should not receive any priority. If Nevada were divided into two states, one being Clark County in Southern Nevada (an area the size of the state of Massachusetts) and the rest of Nevada (an area larger than Wyoming with 25% more people), then Clark County would still be the fastest growing state at an 85% growth rate, Arizona would be second at 40% and Northern Nevada would be third at 35%. Obviously we cannot ignore the growth driven needs of Northern Nevada.
Although congestion in the nation’s fastest growing state seemingly gets most of our attention, we must still spend more than half of our construction dollars on preserving the existing state highway system. If allowed to deteriorate, it would cost much more to bring the state highway system back to good condition than it costs to keep it that way through timely projects identified by an excellent maintenance management system. The importance economically of a good transportation system cannot be emphasized enough.
Of special concern is the idea being floated in a few large states that the federal fuel tax dollars collected in those states should be returned 100% to those states. This would seriously undermine the national highway system.
For example, in Nevada the four-lane Interstate 80 across the northern part of the state has continued to meet the needs of rural growth without much expansion, but the tremendous increase in truck traffic due to the growth of California and the change in distribution of products from a regional warehousing to “just-in-time" delivery has created tremendous maintenance needs which have not been fully met by federal funding. If the federal funding is further reduced, “bridge” states like Nevada will not be able to maintain the interstate systems and national commerce will be severely adversely affected.
In 1996, I spoke to a group of local and state transportation officials in Sacramento who were advocating that California keep all the federal revenue collected in their state. It happened to be the 150th anniversary of the Donner Party and I pointed out to this audience that the reason the Donner party got in trouble was because there were no good roads across Nevada and that the same thing would happen to California’s economy today if they cut off the funding for interstate maintenance across Nevada.
FREEWAY NEEDS IN THE RENO-CARSON URBAN AREA:
In the past thirty years since Interstate 80 was finished through Reno, the population of the Reno-Carson area has tripled to more than 400,000 people. Over those years the primary NDOT freeway project has been to bring U.S. 395 up to freeway standards from the north California State line to the junction with U.S. 50 south of Carson City. When completed, Carson City will be one of the last state capitals to be put on the interstate system.
The 8.5 miles between the Mount Rose Road and the Bowers Mansion Road is the last remaining unfinished freeway segment between Reno and Carson City. The construction of the bridges for this challenging project is scheduled to go to out to bid early next year with the roadway to be constructed after the bridges are complete. The entire project is expected to take four to five years.
The nine mile long freeway bypass around Carson City has had bridges constructed for the northern segment with the roadway work for Phase I scheduled to go out to bid late this year absent any delays due to right-of-way issues. The remaining five miles of the southern portion of this route just started design and is projected to be built by the end of the decade.
Meanwhile I-80 in Reno has aged and traffic has increased beyond original design capacity. We broke ground today for the $53 million rejuvenation of the Reno Spaghetti Bowl (i.e. interchange of I-80 and U.S. 395), which will replace aging pavements, seismic retrofit the bridges to current standards, and widen some bridges and ramps to improve safety and smooth traffic flow.
However, the mainline freeways in Reno and Sparks are approaching maximum capacity and projects will have to be launched over the next ten years to widen I-80 from McCarran east to Vista and from Keystone west to Robb Drive as well as to widen U.S.395 north of McCarran to Lemmon Drive and sections south of the Spaghetti Bowl to Delmonte.
RURAL TWO LANE HIGHWAY WIDENING:
Rural two-lane highways are an item of special concern in a growing state. Head-on accidents, which almost always have one vehicle with no fault, are especially troublesome.
In southern Nevada, NDOT has been able to add lanes to SR 163 between US 95 and Laughlin and on SR 160 between Las Vegas and Pahrump. We are currently out to bid on the first phase of widening US 95 to four lanes between US 93 and SR 163 with a bid opening date of August 15. These projects are not cheap. The 18 miles of the US 95 widening now out to bid are estimated to cost $20.7 million or more than a million dollars a mile. With the growth of the state and the competition for funds from the urban areas, none of these rural two-lane highways could have been widened without additional federal funding.
We have a similar need to widen two-lane highways in Northern Nevada. The two most pressing needs are to widen 21 miles of two-lane highway on US 50 Alternate between Fernley and Fallon and 21 miles of two-lane US 50 between Dayton and Silver Springs.
The traffic on the Fernley to Fallon highway has greatly increased as a result of expanded federal operations at the Fallon Naval Air Station. In October and November of 2000 there were five fatalities on the Fernley to Fallon highway. There were ten fatalities on this road in the previous four years to make the average three a year over the five year period, a very high rate. Although we have taken interim measures, which held the death count to two in the last year and a half, the permanent solution is to widen the highway. The first four-mile phase of this highway widening is now out to bid with a construction cost estimate of $12.2 million. However, the remaining 17 miles of needed widening, estimated to cost nearly $20 million, remains unfunded.
Widening the first 6 miles between Dayton and Silver Springs is in design with a project cost of $7 million for construction in 2005. The remaining 15 miles of widening remains unfunded.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION OF LAKE TAHOE:
Five years ago Senator Reid led the effort to bring national attention to the continuing degradation of water quality in Lake Tahoe. President Clinton and Vice President Gore as well as other high administration officials visited the Lake and commitments were made.
The runoff of both soil matter and road material from the highways around the lake contributes to the degradation of the water quality in Lake Tahoe. With over 39 miles of highway running along the west side of Lake Tahoe, erosion control and run-off treatment has been a major challenge for NDOT. Although we did an early project in 1996, our efforts to protect Lake Tahoe were energized by the conferences in 1997. Thus far, Nevada DOT has spent nearly $36 million on 12 miles of road. This year $4 million is being spent on a mile of road. This still leaves 26 miles of roadwork at a cost more than $80 million. The roads around the California side of Lake Tahoe also have a lot of protection work yet to be done. Funding of this effort is a major issue in both states. Lake Tahoe is a national treasure and deserving of continuing national attention.
WESTERN GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION POSITION ON REAUTHORIZATION:
As President of the 18-state Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, I helped coordinate the drafting of the Governors’ Policy Statement for the Western Governors Association entitled: APolicy Resolution 02-16: Reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century” passed at WGA=s annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 25, 2002. (Please see attached copy.) The Policy Statement makes recommendations in nine areas summarized as follows:
1. Continuation of TEA-21 Programs:
-Although TEA-21 programs are meeting their legislative objectives, there needs to be refinement of the programs to better address specific issues, deficiencies and inequities.
-There is a need to increase revenues to assure dollars are available to meet legislative commitments.
-Ensure that all taxes paid by the users are deposited in the fund and especially address the gasohol issues.
-Retain the firewalls and address current flaws in the RABA mechanism so that revenues are predictable.
-Provide greater flexibility in transferring funds among program categories and do not create any new set-asides or sub allocations.
2. Environmental Streamlining Process:
-The Governors urge Congress to look at examples of best practices various states have used to improve the TEA-21 environmental review process.
-Federal resource agencies should be directed to define time frames necessary to conduct environmental reviews.
-There should be a one-stop permitting process for Section 4(f) and 106 reviews.
-There should be a defined dispute resolution process to resolve disputes between the states and federal resource agencies.
-In the environmental review process the points where judicial challenges are appropriate should be clarified to reduce the continual use of such challenges as a measure to extend both the time and scope of the process.
-Level the playing field for the project environmental review process for projects that include multiple modes.
-While the Governors support the use of higher gas mileage cars, hybrid cars and other energy efficient and environmentally protective technologies, the impact on the transportation funding mechanism (e.g. fuel tax collections) should be studied to ensure TEA-21 programs are fully funded.
-While Governors support the sovereign status of tribes, there are concerns about the loss of revenues from the establishment of service stations on tribal lands and we request federal assistance in developing a fair tax collection process through an equitable settlement negotiations process.
3. State-MPO Planning Process: While the Governor’s support the cooperative process between the state transportation agency and the metropolitan planning organizations, they urge Congress to look at the excellent examples of how well the process is working to clarify any misconceptions.
4. Security: Congress is requested to provide guidance for performing critically and vulnerability assessments of the surface transportation system and guidance for identifying and protecting critical elements. Funding issues from non-transportation sources should also be addressed.
5. Intelligent Transportation Systems: The Governors are concerned that innovative ITS technologies developed by the federal government are not being deployed in a timely manner. They also urge Congress to identify selected multi-state highway corridors on which to deploy its systems.
6. Federal Lands Roads: Public Lands Highways Funds should be allocated to areas of greatest need and to states with the largest amount of public lands acreage.
7. Discretionary Programs: In relation to earmarking funds for projects, criteria should be established to address the ability of the project sponsors to meet program, design, timing and contracting standards.
8. Border Crossings and Trade Corridor Programs:
-Congress is asked to restate its original objective for the trade corridor program in support of NAFTA and to give priority to multi-state projects that facilitate bi-national trade.
-A reformed trade corridor program should be adequately funded.
-Congress should urge the Departments of Transportation, Justice, and Commerce to coordinate their activities to improve the movement of commerce.
9. Modal Integration: In planning and constructing multi and inter-modal projects, the procurement and management requirements imposed by Congress and USDOT must be more uniform.
In conclusion, while I am urging is that Nevada’s federal funding be increased to meet our growth and that certain provisions of TEA-21 be refined as part of the reauthorization, I would like to reiterate that TEA-21 has been very good for Nevada Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on this important issue.