ISTEA Reauthorization
March 28, 1997

Good afternoon, Chairman Chafee and also Senator Reid. I am Yvonne Atkinson Gates, the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, and also I am a member of the Executive Board of the National Association of Counties.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the reauthorization of ISTEA as it relates to Clark County, Nevada. We are facing challenges of growth unprecedented in the nation and worthy of special attention.

First, I want to provide some background about our fundamental phenomenal growth, the affects of this growth on the transportation infrastructure and then provide you with some ideas of the resultant issues that must be addressed.

We are the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country. In 1987 there were about 655,000 people residing in Clark County. Today, 10 years later, our population is over 1.2 million and it is anticipated to be 2.4 million before the year 2020.

Each year about 80,000 people move to the Las Vegas area. Our transportation system must also accommodate a large visiting population. We attracted more than 30 million visitors last year, greatly stressing the transportation facility in the resort corridor. Tourism continues to grow and it is the lifeblood of the county and the State economy. Most of the States' revenue is generated in Clark County via tourism and visitors are totally dependent upon our local regional transportation network system in order to move about.

The specific patterns of residents' and visitors' growth has stressed the transportation system beyond the carrying capacity. Today, about 200,000 residents are employed within the resort corridor, while 93 percent of those populations live outside of that area. Forty-six percent of our total trips in Clark County are to and from and through the resort corridor, and the capacity of the transportation system serving the resort corridor will have a significant expansion in order to accommodate travel demands. The result corridor is geographically and economically the center core of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Outside of the resort corridor much of our highway infrastructure was constructed back in the early 1960s and 1970s, and is in grave need of further expansion.

The regional transportation plan for 1995 through the year 2015 identifies $3.4 billion in program improvements for the major streets and also highways over the next 20 years, but despite that, this level of planned investment, congestion is expected to continue in this valley. Transportation projects indicate that the total roadway capacity in the valley will be unable to maintain a balance between supply and demand, resulting in motor vehicle gridlock.

We are feeling the growing pains of a new community. We do not have the refinement or historical commute pattern and administrative background of a 50 or 60-year old transit system. Our public bus system simply did not exist a few years ago; yet, the bus system ridership has had an annual increase within its time of 44.7 percent over the last four years, and we will continue to see that system expand as Federal funds remain available. Valley-wide only 1.8 percent of the 1995 total daily persons' trips are made by transit, and the level of services far below the desired level, of course.

As the growth continues, every new single home that is built here that are added to our community adds about 10 trips per day to our transportation system and approximately 1.6 new vehicles on our roadway system.

There continues to be great competition for limited funds, for police and fire services, schools and drinking water systems, waste water and sewer systems, libraries, parks, community facilities and maintenance of our older neighborhoods. This competition for public service delivery greatly impacts our ability as local governments to fund regional transportation projects. The stress on our transportation system affects our quality of life for our residents and also for our visitors. We are faced with longer commutes, both in distance and in time; increased costs for capital improvements and maintenance, greater delays at intersections, coupled with the inflexible system to absorb, disrupt, due to accidents and construction. It also impacts the quality of our air.

Continuing daily growth of vehicle trips anticipated over the next 20 years complicates the challenges of clean air. Carbon monoxide and air pollution is almost entirely generated based upon motor exhaust and post-significant risks not only to our visitors but also to our community.

As the roadway becomes congested and vehicle speeds up and reduces, carbon monoxide emissions are greatly increased. Past Federal transportation funds have been used for projects for synchronizing traffic lights and provide separated pedestrian pathways, which result in measurable air quality improvements. However, much needs to be done in terms of cleaning up our air.

Federal transportation funds, coupled with clear direction and guidance toward air quality improvements, are key and important to maintaining a national health standard for air pollutants.

The ISTEA formula has been very responsive to our special needs and challenges, resulting from this unprecedented growth. However, we face special challenges in funding our buses and guideway systems, and our transportation demands management system. ISTEA funds have enabled local governments emission solutions to meeting our demands. We continually -- our continued vitality, economic health and environmental quality hinges upon continued Federal funding for regional transportation projects. Local governments just don't have the resources needed to address these regional transportation programs alone. We must continue to have Federal partnerships with the Federal Government through the expansion of ISTEA funding, and as a member of NACO, I want to say to you, as a member of the Executive Board, that we strongly support the four-core program of ISTEA. And, as a county official, we would like to see a broader role for local governments when ISTEA is reauthorized.

I also want to say, Mr. Chairman, that as a member and as chairman of the Air Quality Committee for NACO, I support your position also on PM-2.5, and I want to say that I really appreciate your allowing me the opportunity to speak to you and also to share with you some of the challenges that we face here in Nevada in terms of trying to solve our problems that we have here, as it relates to transportation.