You paid for It: Dressing up the 215 Beltway

You paid for It: Dressing up the 215 Beltway

CREATED Mar. 14, 2011

"They took dirt, they created holes, they moved it into mounds, they moved the rocks back over it and then they set boulders on it," says Steve Barr, describing scenes at Eastern and the 215.

Barr drives by that interchange every day.

When the project he's describing kicked into high gear, he emailed Contact 13 to ask what's going on there and how much it's costing taxpayers.

We found nearly a million of your tax dollars are going to making things look nice when you get on and off the freeway at Eastern and the 215.

You're paying for decorative rocks, native plants, some pavement graphics, a few walls, and some great big granite boulders.

While checking into that, we also found another $400,000 of your tax dollars went to making things look nice a little further west on the 215 at Flamingo.

In that case, you paid for some striping in the rocks and some native plants.

"Is that what you want done with your tax dollars? Do you think it's a wise expenditure?" asked Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.

"No, I don't," Barr said emphatically.  "I think there's many places that money could be better spent."

"What do you need to see on the side of a freeway, on an on-ramp or off-ramp?"

"Nothing!  I'm busy watching where I'm going. I'm not looking at landscape improvements and stamped concrete."

We took his concerns to Clark County Public Works.

"Why is it important that we have something pretty to look at when we're getting on and off the freeway?" Spears asked Joanna Wadsworth, principal civil engineer with the Public Works Traffic Management Division.

"It provided the same sense of community pride, similar to what graffiti removal does."

Wadsworth tells us the freeway projects are funded through the gas tax and the Federal Surface Transportation Enhancement Fund.

That's a mouthful for a fund dedicated specifically to aesthetic improvements, or more simply, to make things look nice.

"How do we address taxpayers' concerns that we really just can't afford to be spending $1 million dollars making things look nice when we can't afford to educate our kids in Nevada?" Spears asked Wadsworth.

"With this project, we applied for the federal enhancement dollars and those federal enhancement dollars can only be used for landscaping and pedestrian type improvements."

"I think we need to find a better way to go back and re-examine those allocations and move that money somewhere it can be better spent," said Barr.

But the Nevada Department of Transportation (N-DOT), who got the money for the County from the federal government, also points out that the Eastern project alone created about 70 temporary construction jobs.

"It's important because if N-DOT doesn't spend that money and employ workers in Nevada, another state is gonna have that money up for grabs," explains Rudy Malfabon, N-DOT deputy director for southern Nevada.

Malfabon is used to hearing from upset taxpayers whenever they do an enhancement project.

"We notice that a lot: 'hey my kids don't have this at school' or 'I have a pothole in front of my street.' People are concerned that the money is going to the right location."

N-DOT says the federal government is trying to find ways to be more flexible with funding.

"Because it's really getting out of hand to where these pots of money have these constraints associated with them and you can't spend money where you want to."

In addition to the projects we've just detailed, there are many more.

You're paying almost $700,000 to landscape the medians along D street, and $700,000 more for Casino Drive landscaping.

Then there's the $1.1 million for interchange landscaping from Sunset Road to I-515.

And that's just a few.

"How do you feel about the fact that you paid for it?" Spears asked Barr.

"I think I'm being taken advantage of. We're putting our trust in these public officials to spend our money wisely and they're just not doing the job."

N-DOT says even if reallocation is approved, the money would still have to go to some transportation related need. But maybe instead of decorative rock, it could be used to put in street lights or fix roads in disrepair.

Click here to see a complete list of enhancement projects in Nevada.

And if you see something in the community and you're wondering why you paid for it, send us an email to 13investigates@ktnv.com and we'll check it out.

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