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Douglas running out of money for road projects

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County’s five-year road plan is going to outlast its money.

That means new roads in Douglas County may be a thing of the past starting in 2004. County manager Dan Holler thinks the dilemma will create an interesting debate Thursday when the county’s transportation boards consider the five-year transportation plan.

“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.”

The county annually approves a five-year transportation plan that includes major construction and improvement projects, as well as maintenance. The county commission acts as the Tahoe-Douglas Transportation District board, which handles Lake Tahoe projects, and two of the commissioners sit on the county regional transportation commission, along with a private citizen.

The commissioners will be acting in all those capacities during a review of the five-year plan Thursday. But instead of stamping the plan with a few compliments to the planners, as usually happens, Holler said the officials will be faced with recommending project cuts that will have a big impact starting in 2004.

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 in 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.”

Holler said the looming deficits mark the first time in his memory that the transit projects haven’t balanced. In the past, some projects have been included as “unfunded,” meaning they were done only if expenses were less than projected, but Holler said the expected differences are too big to leave as unfunded.

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.

Thursday’s transportation discussion is scheduled soon after the start of the regular commission meeting, which is 1 p.m. at the old courthouse, 1616 Eighth St., Minden.