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County needs to fit Waterloo to budget

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County has a big plan for improving Waterloo Lane, and $600,000 to implement it.

But the firms interested in doing the work have an asking price that starts at $750,000, so the job is on hold until county planners can make some cuts and bring the bid into the budget range.

“It will be pretty bare bones,” said Jeff Foltz, an associate engineer with the community development department. He says the eventual project “will depend on what our new estimate looks like.”

The situation is one that is likely to be repeated more often in the coming years, because Douglas County has a road improvement plan that will outlast its funding.

In the case of Waterloo Lane, the original plan involved rebuilding and a new asphalt overlay for Waterloo between Highway 395 and Elges Lane in Gardnerville. Some overlay work was also to be done on Waterloo west of the highway.

Improvements to the signals controlling the intersection were also planned, and the east side of the junction was scheduled for a revamp, with Waterloo Lane to be narrowed and new sidewalks to be added.

Foltz says the road work is likely the only part that will be done now, and it will probably be delayed at least two months while the project is modified and new bids are sought.

Other county officials say the scenario is likely to be repeated starting in 2004, when new roads may become a thing of the past. They explained the problem recently to the county commission, which also comprises two-thirds of the three-man regional transportation commission and governs the Tahoe-Douglas Transportation District.

All three bodies review a 5-year transportation plan that is updated annually. Though they approved the plan, the discussion was accompanied by a warning that the projects in the plan outstrip its financial resources.

“There’s just no way that you have the funds to address those needs,” said Community Development Director Bob Nunes. “This is an issue that’s not going to go away, but we’re trying to make the best we can with what we’ve got.”

In a separate interview, County Manager Dan Holler said the situation will translate to fewer projects and few, if any, new roads.

“You have a lot of funding requests that just aren’t going to be funded,” said Holler. “When you start looking at how much new construction we can do, it starts to get pretty limited. You’re doing no major construction projects in years four and five.”

He said the cuts will result from a projected deficit in the 4-cent gas tax fund, which pays for road projects. Improvements to Lower Loop Road in Stateline are expected to wipe out the money generated by a 1-percent hotel room tax that was saved for roads.

While both taxes will remain in place, the money they generate is expected only to cover road maintenance, such as asphalt overlays and pothole repair.

“You basically have no money to do major capital projects,” said Holler.

Examples include a $400,000 overlay project for Tillman Lane south of Langley Drive in the Gardnerville Ranchos and a $400,000 widening and rehabilitation of Fish Springs Road between Jo Lane and Windmill Road. Both are scheduled for the 2002-03 fiscal year, about the time the cash crunch is expected to start.

“We can only do one of those,” said Holler. “Which one do we do, or do we do something else? Basically, you’re not going to be debating over any major road projects because you have no funding.”

Road funds are always scarce in Douglas County. County leaders considered a nickel-per-gallon gas tax in 1999, but the idea was jettisoned after no one publicly supported it. The tax would have raised an estimated $1 million per year for road projects.

Formal notice of the transportation funding problems didn’t trigger any requests to reconsider a gas tax, but county leaders acknowledged the shortage.

They said the transit projects should remain in the 5-year plan, even without known funding.

“At least we’ll continue to look at them on the radar screen and find funds for them,” said county commissioner Don Miner.