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Report finds Nevada road repairs lacking finances

Matt Woolbright, Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Drivers in the Reno-Carson City and Las Vegas areas are losing about $1,500 each year because Nevada's roadways are outdated and, in many cases, inadequately maintained, a report released Thursday revealed.

The release of the report by TRIP, a national transportation research group based in Washington, D.C., coincided with state lawmakers discussing a bill that would raise the gas taxes for motor vehicles 2 cents per year for the next decade.

"I think the public is willing to pay for taxes when it's going for something they need, like good roads," Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, told members of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development on Thursday.

The current backlog of needed repairs for state-maintained roads and bridges is estimated to be $2 billion by the Nevada Department of Transportation, according to the TRIP report. It added that the cost is expected to rise to $3.4 billion by 2025.

Segerblom, the primary sponsor of AB377, told committee members that the revenue generated from his flat gas tax increase would be $300 million in the first year and about $3 billion over the course of the next decade. The bill would increase taxes on all motor vehicle gases except jet fuel and other types of special gases.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates the average miles driven per year, per driver to be just over 16,500. Based on a 20-miles-per-gallon vehicle, this tax would mean drivers pay an additional $16.50 each year of the increasing gas hikes, up to $165 in year 10.

According to the TRIP report, just over half of locally and state-maintained roads in Nevada's urban areas are in poor or mediocre condition, and in the Reno-Carson City area that number soars to 86 percent.

"I am not a big proponent of raising any taxes, but I don't think we have any other choice," Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said of AB377 when the TRIP report was released. "I am pleading with the legislature to give this a good look, because we can't afford not to do something."

Democrats of the committee praised the effort as a practical job creator that doesn't place unbearable burdens on citizens.

"This would be a big job generator, and it would put a lot of people back to work," said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, "The good thing about this bill is not only do we get to get our roads repaired, we also create good paying jobs."

But opponents of the measure said the increased tax may be too much for lower-income Nevadans who already pay numerous state and federal taxes.

"The people who will suffer the most from this are the people who can least afford it and the people in the rural areas," said Janine Hansen who ran for the state Senate last year. "Government needs to be as careful about spending our money as we are about spending our money."

The gas tax may serve as a short-term fix, but with the increasing prevalence of hybrid cars and vehicles getting better and better miles per gallon, a gas tax simply isn't the long-term answer, said Rudy Malfabon, the director of the Nevada Department of Transportation.

"There is not enough money from gas taxes nationally, let alone in Nevada, to keep our roads maintained," Malfabon said. He added that Western states are discussing and researching a number of alternatives — namely, a system where drivers pay a tax per mile driven on state roadways.

But any changes like that are likely are at least 10 years down the road, he said.

The committee took no action Thursday.