After years of extraordinary growth in Nevada, our transportation infrastructure is stretched to the limit. Although the economic downturn has reduced revenues for our roads, airports, and rail lines, this slower period of growth also presents us with an opportunity to make lasting improvements to plan for the future while creating good jobs. This planning is particularly important since millions of visitors travel to Nevada each year.
I remain committed to improving Nevada's transportation network of roadways, railways, and airports. Since my earliest days on the Senate Appropriations Committee and more recently in my role as Senate Majority Leader, I have worked to bring federal funding back to Nevada to build better roads, improve public transit, and strengthen our airports.
In February 2012, after twenty-three temporary Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extensions, the Senate passed the bipartisan FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (FAA Reauthorization). This long-term compromise, which President Obama signed into law on February 14, 2012, will create or save more than 280,000 jobs while bringing our nation’s air-travel infrastructure into the 21st Century by finally transitioning many air traffic control systems from World War II-era technology to cutting-edge, GPS navigation.
For states like Nevada, which depend on tourism, the FAA bill is vital to our economy. More than 45 million people visit Las Vegas and Reno every year, and tourism is one of the most important industries for the Nevada economy. In fact, the economic impact of Nevada’s five airports is approximately $40 billion, which sustains 313,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $11.8 billion. The FAA Reauthorization will also protect passengers heading to the Silver State by improving air travel safety, reducing flight delays that cost passengers an estimated $16 billion a year. In 2011, one in five commercial flights was delayed. By allowing airlines to fly point-to-point with GPS navigation, we will reduce travel time, save fuel, and reduce delays for travelers.
Surface Transportation – Maintaining Our Quality of Life
Our nation’s interconnected economy depends on our system of roadways, highways, railways, and bridges. Regrettably our transportation infrastructure has fallen into disrepair. However, the economic recovery presents us with an opportunity: simply put, building infrastructure creates jobs. Every billion dollars spent on infrastructure creates 13,000 jobs, according to Department of Transportation Statistics. That is why I was proud to lead passage of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill in the Senate in June 2012. Thanks to this important legislation, which is now law, we are able to start rebuilding our transportation system and put nearly 3 million Americans back to work. Known as the surface transportation bill, the law authorizes highway and transit programs for more than two years, makes key reforms by consolidating transportation programs, cuts red tape, and leverages federal resources to expand public-private partnerships in transportation.
For Nevada, the surface transportation bill will have a direct impact by creating or saving more than 12,800 jobs. In addition, I included a provision in this legislation to designate portions of US-93 as Interstate 11 to connect Las Vegas and Phoenix. By making the route eligible for federal highway funds, Interstate 11will help create badly needed construction jobs, increase commerce, and significantly boost tourism. I also worked to increase Nevada’s share of federal dollars under the federal highway funding formula. As a result, Nevada will receive over $3 million in additional roadway funding and over $7.5 million in additional transit funding by fiscal year 2014. These are two important areas that will strengthen Nevada’s infrastructure into the future.
I am also working to reduce congestion on our roads because I recognize that every minute spent in congested traffic is a wasted opportunity for Nevada’s families and businesses. According to the most recent statistics, 49 percent of Nevada’s roads and highways are congested. Another study shows that Nevadans lose between 14 and 42 cents every minute that they are stuck in traffic. That is why I am working with state and local officials to provide funding to reduce congestion on Nevada’s roads and highways. Below are a few examples:
- $22 million to rehabilitate the Virgin River Bridge #6 on I-15
- $1.1 million for Interchanges on the S. NV Beltway, I-215
- $1.2 million for the Starr Road Interchange and Extension to St. Rose Parkway in Henderson
- $1.4 million for congestion relief on the Pyramid Lake Highway Corridor in Sparks
- $1 million for NDOT to widen I-15 from Sloan to Apex
- $1 million for the FAST Congestion Improvement Program
Improving Safety on Nevada’s Roads
According to the Nevada Highway User’s coalition, hundreds of people die each year on Nevada’s roads. Compared to an average state, Nevadans are 42 percent more likely to be killed in a traffic accident. This is unacceptable, and I am committed to improving safety on Nevada’s roads. This year, I obtained a $700,000 grant to be used by the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Office to Traffic Safety to address problem areas throughout the state identified by the Nevada Department of Transportation. In addition, in 2010, I worked to secure two grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation for highway safety and enforcement programs in Carson City, including a $1 million grant for Nevada highway safety programs, and $200,000 for a seatbelt enforcement program designed to reduce deaths and injuries.
Making Air Travel Safer and More Convenient
Nevada is home to some of our nation’s most popular tourist attractions. Increasing tourism to Nevada will strengthen our economy and create good jobs for Nevada’s working families. That is why I have worked hard to improve Nevada’s airports to help make the updates necessary to handle increasing numbers of passengers.
With more than 40 million passengers annually, McCarran International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States. In addition, Reno-Tahoe International Airport in northern Nevada has seen its cargo business expand by over 10 percent over the past year—one of the fastest growth rates in the country. These are all welcome signs that our tourism industry is picking up. That is why I am continuing to work to make the investments necessary to keep Nevada’s air transportation system safe and efficient. These efforts include:
- Protecting the bond financing for the new Terminal 3 at McCarran Airport, helping to save thousands of jobs at the $2.5 billion project in Southern Nevada.
- $55 million for a new TRACON Airport Control Tower at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
- Two grants, totaling $5.1 million, to the Reno-Tahoe Airport for pavement improvements to the airport’s taxiway and parking lot.
- Three grants, totaling $14.5 million, to implement noise mitigation measures to assist nearby homeowners.
- In 2006, I worked to add additional Customs and Border Protection Officers at McCarran to inspect the rise in international traffic and help process passengers.
- I have also worked on facility upgrades at the Reno-Tahoe Airport and on other rural airports throughout the state.
- $2.1 million for upgrades to the Carson City Airport
- $237,500 for an Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Reno-Tahoe Airport
- $1 million to help connect the S. NV Beltway (215) to McCarran Airport
Realizing the growing needs of the McCarran International Airport, I was pleased to support the construction of the new Terminal 3. This state-of-the-art facility was one of the largest public works projects in recent Nevada history, and construction was almost stopped completely in the economic recession. That is why, in 2010, I placed language in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to make sure McCarran Airport and other airports could continue to sell bonds to construct new facilities. This project was a significant job creator in Southern Nevada at a time when construction work was scarce in our state and I am proud to have saved nearly 2,000 jobs. With the new opening of Terminal 3, Nevada’s largest airport will be able to accommodate an even greater number of travelers.
Building Mass Transit Systems and Reducing Air Pollution
I have long been a supporter of developing high-speed rail options for Nevadans and visitors to Nevada. By improving our state’s rail system, we can take a significant step towards reducing vehicle emissions, increasing tourism, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and creating an efficient and economical mode of transportation between Las Vegas and Southern California.
That is why I am pleased to support XpressWest, a privately-funded high speed train that will allow passengers to travel from Las Vegas to Victorville in as little as 84 minutes. While the first phase of the project ends in Victorville, XpressWest will eventually connect to the California High-Speed Rail system in Palmdale, which will join the coordinated statewide transportation network that was recently approved by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. This statewide network will serve major cities in California, including San Francisco, Los Angles, Anaheim, and San Diego. Once completed, Southern Nevada and California will have a fully integrated rail network which will allow travelers to quickly access major destinations throughout the West. This job creating measure will help meet Nevada’s 21st Century transportation needs.
I also recognize the need for efficient bus and light rail systems throughout Nevada to offer an affordable alternative to driving. By improving public transportation, we can help strengthen communities throughout Nevada. Working closely with the Regional Transportation Commissions (RTCs) in Northern and Southern Nevada, I have helped fund improvements to transit centers and bus equipment:
- $13 million the purchase of 24 new Compresses Natural Gas buses for the RTC of Southern Nevada
- $1.75 million for the RTC of Southern Nevada’s Integrated Bus Maintenance Facility
- $917,000 for updates to the RTC of Northern Nevada’s digital radio system for fixed route and paratransit services
- $1.4 million for NDOT’s Statewide Bus Service
- $950,000 for the Central City Intermodal Transit Center in Las Vegas
- $750,000 for Reno and Sparks Intermodal Transit Centers
- $475,000 for Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization for Lake Tahoe Bus Facilities
- $12 million for Boulder Highway Bus Rapid Transit System (Highway Bill)