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Day to Day, February 9, 2005 - Environmental activists and transportation officials in Las Vegas remain locked in a legal battle over the widening of Nevada's U.S. highway 95. Proponents of the road believe it will ease traffic congestion, while opponents warn that expansion will increase air pollution. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.
PLASKON: On the bright side, Frank Moretti of TRIP, The Road Information Project gave Nevada a B for the quality of its roads and bridges.
MORETTI: A very positive grade. The states forecast however indicates that it doesn't have enough money to keep roads in this condition unless they are able to increase funding.
PLASKON: While the quality of roads is good, the quantity of traffic on those roads isn't and earned the state a D grade in the report. Traffic is growing nine times faster than new capacity is being added according to the report. That makes the roads dangerous. The report also said Nevadan's are 30 percent more likely to die on roads here than around the nation. Finally the bleak analysis goes on to report half of roads in the state are above capacity and the state needs double its budget for in order to meet planned projects to alleviate congestion over the next 10 years. TRIP's Frank Moretti said, spend more money.
MORETTI: Our report found that Nevada faces a 3 billion dollar backlog over the next 10 years in funding the road and bridge and highway projects in order to improve traffic safety.
PLASKON: Clark County's Deputy General Manager Curtis Myles said the road conditions will deteriorate regardless of road construction.
MYLES: Absolutely, I think that you will have a worsening report unless you have a multi mobile approach to the system.
PLASKON: A multi mobile approach is alternative transportation and because Las Vegas doesn't have much of it, he says the report card will be worse next year. TRIP's report does not address that. Instead, the organization funded by 136 road construction companies recommends expanding 6 freeways around the state. Myles downplays expansion as a solution. He cites RTC studies reporting that on the strip for instance it would take 14 lanes of traffic in each direction to accommodate future traffic projections to downtown. And US 95 will be maxed-out if it is expanded too. The Sierra Club is suing the Federal Transportation Administration to consider alternatives to expansion such as using the U-S 95 right of way for public transit rather than more highway lanes. Erik Olson is the Sierra Clubs transportation expert.
MYLES: Those roads are typically going to become full to capacity within 3 years and building more roads doesn't solve the congestion problem it may postpone it but it in the long run creates more traffic congestion.
PLASKON: Clark County's Deputy General Manager Curtis Myles said that one reason for focusing on expansion of freeways to alleviate congestion rather than alternative transportation is that freeways have a shorter approval period in federal funding processes. However, today the Federal Transit Administration reported that communities do want more public transit and announced 1.5 billion dollars worth of funding for it around the nation. The Las Vegas Monorail extension to downtown was listed too. But the administration recommended not funding it citing operational and financial complications. It did however keep the option open that private investments in the monorail could leverage federal funding for some transit system to serve downtown.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR