Nevada’s infrastructure has been steadily improving over the past several decades and its infrastructure can be considered relatively new when comparing to other states. However, comparable to our state itself, there are two parts to our infrastructure story. Geographically, Nevada is the seventh largest in land area, but 36th largest in population. Over 90% of the state’s residents are in Las Vegas and Reno. Additionally, 90% of the state is considered rural and over 80% of the land area is owned by the Federal government. Nevada is also one of the driest states in the country, with annual rainfall of five inches or less. A majority of the state’s water supply is dependent on snowmelt from mountain ranges within Nevada and in neighboring states. The state’s largest city, Las Vegas, has grown rapidly the past 20 years and has the newest and largest amount of infrastructure. Many other areas, including Reno, Elko, Ely and Tonopah, are home to much older infrastructure.
This 2018 Report Card on Nevada’s Infrastructure is the third edition developed by ASCE’s Nevada Section since 2007. This report covers twelve categories – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, Public Parks, Roads, Stormwater, Schools, Solid Waste, Transit, and Wastewater. Energy and Public Parks are the two new categories and Transportation is divided into three categories in this report card – Bridges, Roads and Transit. We are pleased to report an improvement in Nevada’s infrastructure from a C- in 2014 to a C in 2018.
The need to improve Nevada’s infrastructure was evident and Nevada civil engineers have been addressing that need. The authorization of Fuel Revenue Indexing in Clark County, which goes through 2026, has made it possible to address overdue road and bridge projects over the past four years. Additionally, a portion of these additional revenues are allocated for state roadways. The two major airports in Nevada, Reno-Tahoe and McCarran in Las Vegas, have undergone major improvements to their terminals and airside facilities, in addition to implementing energy-saving measures. The two largest school districts of Washoe and Clark Counties have been constructing new schools while also upgrading existing facilities. Transit in Reno and Las Vegas continues to expand, and Las Vegas is considering the implementation of light rail.
Nevada is set to be a leader in emerging technologies, which includes renewable energy (solar, wind and geothermal), autonomous vehicles, drone technology and transit systems, thanks to leadership in the State Legislature and in the Governor’s office. For example, Nevada was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six drone research areas in the United States—conducting research in this area and developing facilities within the state. Additionally, Nevada authorized autonomous vehicles in 2013 and has seen several test implementations in downtown Las Vegas and Clark County. NDOT just completed USA Parkway to provide access from I-80 and the Tahoe-Reno Industrial center continues to attract technology companies to the area.
However, progress was not universal across all categories. The “Dams” category did not change from 2014-2018. Dams have had the same funding and staffing issues over the past four years, which is consistent with a large portion of the country. However, the passing of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018 by Congress paves the way for reauthorization of the National Levee Safety Program and the National Dam Safety Program, both of which are designed to improve dam and levee safety across the country.
The Solid Waste category saw the only grade decrease from 2014 to 2018. Nevadans generate nearly double the national average of municipal solid waste each year. Rural parts of the state, in particular, are faced with limited and expensive methods for managing municipal solid waste. We’re also falling short of our statewide goal to recycle 25% of municipal solid waste each year. Nevadans will need to recycle the equivalent of nearly 100 Olympic size swimming pools more worth of waste each year to meet this goal.
As Nevada’s economy relies heavily on tourism, efficiently functioning airports are essential to keep the state thriving. Our state’s regional airports are important in binding our communities together and making our rural areas accessible. Today, over 50 million passengers utilize Nevada’s largest airports – the Reno-Tahoe International and McCarren International Airports – placing a heavy strain on existing facilities and requiring constant maintenance. To accommodate current and future passenger volumes, McCarran has begun a $30 million modernization project. Reno-Tahoe recently completed work on renovating their two terminals and have plans to begin a major $1.6 billion expansion in 2019. Meanwhile, Nevada’s general aviation airports are typically eligible for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants and can also receive state apportionment and discretionary funding from the FAA. However, the airport sponsors are sometimes challenged to provide the required local matching funds to make necessary projects a reality.
With only 1.5% of Nevada’s 1,944 bridges rated as structurally deficient, the state’s bridge network is one of the best in the country. However, 26% of the bridges in the state are over 50 years old and another 12% will reach their 50-year design life by 2030. Older bridges are often costlier to maintain and will eventually require replacement. Meanwhile, available funding is insufficient to address future needs. Nevada spends approximately $17 million per biennium on bridge preservation with revenue from a combination of federal funds, fuel taxes and registration fees. Nevada’s current backlog of bridge preservation is approximately $133 million for corrective maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement.
Nevada has a total of 656 state regulated dams, 154 of which are considered to have “high hazard” potential. A high hazard dam is defined as a dam whose failure would cause loss of life and significant property damage. In addition to the 656 state regulated dams, there are also 282 dams in Nevada that are either federally managed or below the jurisdictional threshold to be managed by the state. In a condition rating assessment published by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials for the state of Nevada, 95% of the state-regulated dams with a high hazard potential had a condition assessment rating in the National Inventory of Dams. Over 80% of these dams received a condition rating of either Satisfactory or Fair. Approximately 9% of these dams received a condition rating of either Poor or Unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, the dam safety budget for high hazard dams is only about half of the national average, when comparing services such as inspections, legislation, and EAPs. Additionally, the number of agency staff per high hazard dam is approximately half of the national average.
Nearly three-quarters of the population of Nevada lives in the Mojave Desert, a region that receives less than six inches of rainfall annually. The remainder of the state is considered “semi-arid” and can be subjected to intermittent periods of drought. These conditions require long-term planning to ensure that water resources remain renewable, reliable and sustainable. The 6th Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment issued by the EPA reported that Nevada will require $5.316 billion for water system improvements over the next twenty years, three quarters of which will be needed for large capacity systems. Though much of Nevada’s existing drinking water infrastructure is new in relation to the national average, the projected growth for the Las Vegas and Reno areas requires a level of investment that exceeds what has been the trend over the past decade. Nevada’s rural areas have struggled to keep up with their water systems needs due to lack of resources and funding, which is an on-going theme in all aspects of infrastructure in the state.
Nevada’s current energy needs are being met. NV Energy, the state’s largest provider of electricity, generates, transmits and distributes about 83% of the state’s electrical power, serving 1.3 million customers and over 40 million visitors annually. The public utility has been highly ranked among electric utilities nationwide for service reliability. Because Nevada’s energy infrastructure is relatively young, operations and maintenance costs have been reasonable. The state considers itself to be a national leader in development, innovation and commercialization of renewable energy. Nevada has a Renewable Portfolio Standard which mandates that 50% of electricity sold to retail customers comes from renewables by 2030. Nevada has been ranked first nationally for installed geothermal per capita. The state’s high solar insolation means relatively low costs for solar power generation. Looking ahead, Nevada can benefit ecologically and economically by building its in-state capacity to generate electricity using renewables and by further encouraging innovations in clean, renewable energy for electricity and transportation, and in energy efficiency.
Nevada is the seventh largest state in the country by area. Approximately 85% of Nevada’s land is owned by the federal government, open for public use, giving our state the title of having the highest percentage of public land in the contiguous United States. Additionally, with approximately 24 acres of land per resident and approximately 87% of the population living within the Reno or Las Vegas metro areas, Nevada is also one of the least densely populated states in the country. The state has mostly recovered from the Great Recession with revenue for parks increasing steadily over the past 10 years. However, funding for improvements to the state’s recreation areas, in addition to funding new facilities for a growing population, will continue to be the main challenge for local, state, and federal agencies who operate recreation areas in Nevada.
There is over 32,000 miles of roadways in Nevada. The average condition of these roads is fair. The state faces a $450 million backlog of road and bridge repairs, mostly due to needed repairs in rural areas. Roads and bridges that are deficient, congested, or lack desirable safety features cost Nevada motorists a total of $3.2 billion statewide annually. Higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes, and congestion-related delays can cost drivers $1,744 per year in the Las Vegas urban area, while Reno-Tahoe motorists lose an average of $1,192 per year. While the state’s gas tax hasn’t been changed since 1992, voters in the two largest urban counties in the state – Clark County and Washoe County – approved ballot measures raising funds for roads in recent years. Looking forward, the state needs to make robust, strategic investments in its roadways to accommodate the expected population growth.
In Nevada, there are 17 school districts, each of which are coterminous with the 17 counties in the state. The two largest districts are Clark County (320,523 students and 369 campuses) and Washoe County (63,919 students and 104 campuses). Clark County has identified $4.1 billion in available funding for capital projects to accommodate a quickly-growing population. However, a recent study has shown that the county’s unfunded needs are in excess of $8.3 billion, with over $4.6 billion expected to be needed for modernization of existing facilities. In recent years, Clark County School District has twice gone to the voters for tax increases for school funding and has been voted down both times. Meanwhile, Washoe County voters approved a 0.54% sales tax that will fund a minimum of $1 billion towards maintenance and new construction of 18 new schools. For rural schools, public private partnerships have been enacted in the past year which are being used to improve schools as well. Nevada has stated that it has a long-term goal of having modern facilities that can prepare students for high-tech jobs of the future.
In Nevada, over 90% of all Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) goes to one of two major, privately owned landfills: Apex in the South and Lockwood in the North. In 2016, the estimated MSW per capita generation in Nevada was just short of 8 lbs. per person per day, nearly double the national average of 4.4 lbs per person per day. However, data suggests that per capita waste generation is heavily influenced by the tourism corridors, including Las Vegas. Encouragingly, projections show that the capacity of the two main landfills will be able to handle current MSW generation rates for 100 or more years. Unfortunately, in the rural parts of the state, resources are scarce and the choices for how to handle MSW are few and expensive. While the Reno and Las Vegas regions are meeting or exceeding their goals of recycling at least 25% of their MSW each year, rural regions are struggling to catch up. Nevada’s statewide recycling percentage fell short of the 25% goal, reported to be 22.3% in 2016. To meet that goal, Nevada will need to recycle the equivalent of nearly 100 Olympic size swimming pools more worth of waste each year.
Nevada can experience severe flash flooding as a result of rapid snow melt or short duration, high-intensity thunderstorms, both of which can result in significant stormwater runoff problems for its residents. To effectively manage stormwater and associated infrastructure, southern and northern Nevada have established cross-jurisdictional facilitating organizations. The Clark County Regional Flood Control District (CCRFCD) and the Truckee River Flood Management Authority both have comprehensive plans to address flooding issues, regulate land use in flood hazard areas, and fund and coordinate the construction of flood control facilities. The CCRFCD has a $868 million, 10-year construction program which is primarily funded by quarter-cent sales tax and bonds. In Northern Nevada, the $400 million Truckee River Flood Project includes levees, floodwalls, terracing, bridge replacement, mitigation measures. However, statewide, there continues to be projected funding shortfalls upwards of $400 million during the next 10 years for necessary flood mitigation projects.
Meeting the needs of expected population growth in Nevada will require increased investment in public transportation systems to make them more accessible and reliable and ensure transit is a viable mobility choice for residents and visitors. Fortunately, the two major transit agencies in the state are very effective in the management of their systems and the services they provide. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTCSNV) serves the Las Vegas metro area and had over 64 million boardings on its bus system in 2017. RTCSNV is recognized nationally for its cost efficiency, having the lowest cost per boarding, lowest subsidy and nearly the highest farebox recovery of any other public bus system in the country. The RTC of Washoe County (RTCWC) continues to provide reliable service to the residents of the Reno-Sparks area. Looking ahead, the state should consider investment to expand and enhance the bus systems and add higher order transit – i.e. fixed guideway –to support additional residents and visitors.
Approximately 6,775 miles of sewer pipeline in Nevada connect to 50 different wastewater treatment facilities. Many of Nevada’s collection systems are relatively new compared to other states. While the majority of Nevada’s population is concentrated in the Reno and Las Vegas metropolitan areas and served by a few facilities, the majority of wastewater treatment facilities in Nevada serve rural communities. The 2008 Great Recession had a large impact on the state’s economy and rate of growth; new construction came to a halt and agencies prioritized rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. However, recent spending has ticked up. Federal grants and loans have leveraged state and local funds to upgrade facilities. The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2012 that wastewater projects in Nevada required approximately $3.08 billion, down from $3.3 billion in 2008. Nevada is the driest state in the U.S. and supporting a growing population requires innovation and conservation.
A: EXCEPTIONAL, B: GOOD, C: MEDIOCRE, D: POOR, F: FAILING
Each category was evaluated on the basis of capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation
Key Facts about Nevada's Infrastructure
30 public-use airports
31 (1.59%) of the 1,944 bridges are structurally deficient
156 high hazard dams
Dams with EAPS
92% of the state regulated dams have an Emergency Action Plan
$5.32 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
1 sites on the National Priorities List
70 miles of levees
$15.3 million of unmet needs for its parks system
1,193 miles of freight railroads across the state, ranking 39th nationally
$536 per motorist per year in costs from driving on roads in need of repair
48,234 miles of Public Roads, with 14% in poor condition
$52 million gap in estimated school capital expenditures
79,975,872 annual unlinked passenger trips via transit systems including bus, transit, and commuter trains
$3.07 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
Our nation’s infrastructure problems are solvable if we have leadership and commit to making good ideas a reality. Raising the grades on our infrastructure will require that we seek and adopt a wide range of solutions.
State and local governments continue to lose revenue as the pandemic impacts user-fee participation. Urge Congress to use the lame-duck session to provide necessary relief to ensure all sectors of our infrastructure remain safe and reliable.