Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman voiced concerns Monday over President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, which called on states to fund the lion’s share of highways, but added she was hopeful that the plan could help expand Interstate 15.
“Without question,” Goodman said in an interview when asked if she was concerned that Trump’s plan would provide only $200 billion in federal funding.
She was one of the a group of 24 state and local officials invited to the White House to discuss infrastructure issues after the administration released a budget that was roundly criticized by the Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation.
Under the proposal, the $200 billion is designed to be leveraged into $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, including through partnerships with the private sector. The plan also caps federal funding to 20 percent per project. Currently the federal government pays 80 percent of the cost of road projects and 50 percent for mass transit.
The Nevada Department of Transportation did not have an immediate comment on the plan.
Any infrastructure legislation would need to be considered and approved by Congress, including Democrats who assailed the plan. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the proposal would rely too heavily on tolls and fees. And with the midterm elections in the fall, it’s unclear if there is an appetite in Congress to have an infrastructure debate, which would provide grist for negative campaign ads to attack vulnerable incumbents.
The unveiling of the infrastructure plan Monday coincided with the release of the Trump administration’s $4.4 trillion fiscal 2019 budget blueprint, which was criticized by most of the Nevada Congressional delegation and other state lawmakers over the inclusion of a provision calling for $120 million to build a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain.
After the White House infrastructure meeting, Goodman said she gave the president a plan the city of Las Vegas has developed to widen Interstate 15, which she argued would help move freight throughout the region from the western ports, such as the Port of Los Angeles. The expansion would include adding lanes in the median of the highway between Barstow, Calif., and Las Vegas, Goodman said.
“I gave him the packet, and hopefully he will read it and put it into the program,” she said, adding that she explained to Trump the regional significance of the city’s I-15 plan.
The Las Vegas mayor said she was pleased that Trump’s infrastructure plan included language to streamline the environmental permitting process, which could help expedite the I-15 project.
“It’s something that can be achieved, not within 10 or 15 years, but probably could be achieved between two or three years, as long as [Trump] helps with the environmental study,” Goodman said.
The road-building industry has long complained that the environmental review process is unnecessarily lengthy and adds costs to projects, something Trump noted when speaking to the state and local officials.
The White House plan “will speed the permit approval process from 10 years to 2 years, and maybe even to 1 year,” Trump said. “In one state, it took 17 years for a basic roadway to get a permit, and the cost was many, many, many times what it was supposed to be. And we can’t have that.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Dina Titus, both Democrats, also weighed in on the infrastructure plan, which Cortez Masto said “shows President Trump is not serious about investing in America.”
“State and local governments cannot be forced to pick up the tab for federal neglect,” Cortez Masto said in a release. “We must effectively ensure sustainable and fair investments in infrastructure that move our goods, move our people and move our economy forward.”
Titus said Trump’s road plan would do nothing to help complete Interstate 11, which would connect Las Vegas and Phoenix, the only two cities in the nation with populations more than one million people that are not currently linked by an interstate, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.
The proposal “includes no specifics for completing major projects like I-11 and instead sets up a scenario whereby Nevada will have to complete the interstate to Phoenix with little to no help from the federal government,” Titus said in a statement.
Cortez Masto, Titus and fellow House Democrat Jacky Rosen were also critical of the overall budget plan, which ignored a bipartisan spending deal agreed to last week, by increasing defense spending and cutting domestic programs, including reductions to Medicare, which provides health care for the elderly and disabled, as well as to student loan and clean energy programs.
But it was the White House request for $120 million for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository that most Nevada lawmakers objected to in the fiscal 2019 White House budget plan.
“It’s a disgrace that President Trump and some Members of Congress find it acceptable to continue throwing away taxpayer money on a failed project,” Cortez Masto said in a separate release. “There is bipartisan agreement in Nevada’s congressional delegation, and widespread opposition amongst Nevadans against Yucca Mountain. I will continue to fight this Administration and call for consent-based siting for federal projects.”
Republican Sen. Dean Heller, the longest serving member of the delegation, took credit for preventing any funding from being appropriated for the project.
“Whether it’s the threat that Yucca Mountain poses to the people of southern Nevada or its potentially catastrophic effect on our tourism economy, I’ve made it clear why Nevada does not want to turn into the nation’s nuclear waste dump,” Heller said in a release. “Under my leadership Congress has not appropriated funding for licensing activities at Yucca Mountain as requested in the last budget, and I’m going to continue to fight to make sure that this project doesn’t see the light of day.”
Republican Governor Brian Sandoval said he was “disappointed” in the inclusion of funds for Yucca.
“My office did receive notice from the Department of Energy that Yucca Mountain licensing funding would be in the budget, but we continue to disagree on the necessity to invest any money at all on this ill-conceived project,” Sandoval said in a statement. “Yucca Mountain is incapable of safely storing the world’s most toxic substance and Nevada will continue to oppose any efforts to dump nuclear waste in our state. I am disappointed that the Administration’s budget appears to resurrect this dormant project and we will leave no stone unturned in fighting any attempt to revive this failed idea.”
However, Sandoval did praise the request for additional funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education grants, and investments in school choice funding and charter schools, “all of which have been part of Nevada’s improving education portfolio,” he said.
Rosen took to Twitter to register her displeasure with the Yucca funding request.
“This proposal is a threat to the health and safety of Nevadans, an attack on our economy, and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars,” she wrote. “We won’t stand for this.”
Goodman reiterated her position that transporting nuclear waste on the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and tunnels is too dangerous.
“All of this hinges on the repurposing and fixing of 180-year-old infrastructure before you transport one dime’s worth of nuclear waste,” Goodman said, noting that mayors from other states also oppose the transportation of the toxic material.
But Dan Schinhofen, vice-chairman of the Board of Nye County Commissioners, which governs the county that would host the Yucca Mountain, called for Trump to quickly greenlight the project.
“I am pleased by the President’s action and urge Congress to pass this budget item as quickly as possible,” Schinhofen said in a statement.
He argued that research on the safety of the project has not been completed and that implementation of the budget would allow that to happen. He added that the budget also includes $3.6 million for Nye County as the host community for the project and that the funds would be used for a number for the county’s seniors, housing assistance for veterans and to help provide medical services for central Nevada.
“I hope our opponents can articulate why they oppose funding to help the elderly, veterans and everyone that needs medical assistance,” Schinhofen said. “I hope they can explain why they are afraid of hearing the science. I hope they can tell us why they think it is acceptable not to follow the law.”