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Leaders like cooperative approach to road plan

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County leaders will accept a business group’s offer to team up on a long-term road funding plan that could include resurrection of a nickel-per-gallon gas tax.

The county commission agreed Thursday that a proposal by the Business Council of Douglas County to form a public-private group that will address transit issues is a good approach.

“It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach,” said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen. “It’s going to be a difficult road, but today’s a good day to begin.”

County administrators have been warning that they lack enough money to maintain or improve existing roads, let alone build new ones. Voters knocked a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax that could have paid for roads off the books in 1994, and county leaders scuttled plans to ask for its reinstatement earlier this year, citing a lack of interest.

But Business Council Director Suzanne Rosevold said participants at a recent forum the group held on roads agreed re-implementation of the tax is inevitable, because if Douglas voters won’t tax themselves, state and federal road-building funds will be hard to come by.

Commissioner Steve Weissinger said gas tax discussions will have to include service station owners, and he agreed with Rosevold that a unified approach by public and private groups is prudent. Rosevold said Clark and Washoe counties used a similar approach to address their transportation plans.

“It’s not something that’s going to go away,” said Weissinger. “Ten years from now, we will be just like Carson City.”

“This is not a hot issue today, but it’s a lot easier to address sooner than when it’s a crisis,” said Etchegoyhen.

Jerry Bing, the Business Council’s vice president, said an alternate route to Highway 395 should be a priority. She also noted that semantics – calling it an alternate and not a bypass – will play a role in rallying business support. So will a dedicated funding source, like the 5-cent gas tax.

“If you say this is what we’re going to do (with a gas tax), I truly believe you’ll get public support,” she said.

The commissioners asked for another discussion on the coalition idea in June. The Business Council representatives said they think the group, once established, could accomplish its work in a year.