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At $12 Billion For A New Transit System, What Would We Get?

No issue is drawing more local attention these days than transportation.

The Las Vegas Strip is a slowly moving parking lot. The state spends hundreds of millions to keep increasing highway capacity. And younger generations, millennials, just aren’t as  hip to driving as older generations.

So after some two years of study, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada has drafted a transportation plan.

The cost would be between $7 and $12 billion. And it would take 30 years to complete.

But it’s not a done deal.

The RTC will seek public input over the next 90 days.

And there are many questions still to ask. Why are changes needed; how much input was taken from local elected leaders; who will pay for it; and why wasn't the light rail component figured into the cost total?

David Swallow is the senior director of engineering and technology for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the main focus of the report is to address the movement of three main groups in the main resort corridor: the tourists, convention attendees and residents, especially workers at the hotels.

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"We're looking at a system that can enable better movement of all three groups," Swallow said. "Frankly, it's a number of different options that all have to be considered at the same time. There's no silver bullet to solve the problems for everything."

He said they've recommended freeway improvements, roadway improvements, and transits systems, specifically a light rail system linking McCarran International Airport to the Strip and downtown.  

Swallow said improving the flow between the airport, the Strip and downtown is vital to improving transportation in Southern Nevada.

"The most critical link in our valley is the connection between the airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas, as far as economic activity is concerned" he said.

The plan also addresses moving people from residential areas to the city's core.

"Part of the whole list of improvements includes the connection between our residential areas in the Valley to the core area," Swallow said, he said plans are in the works to bring high-capacity transit to Charleston Boulevard, North Fifth Street, and Blue Diamond Road to name a few.

"We're covering different parts of the Valley and trying to get those express transit services to connect those areas to the core," he said.

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown is the chairman of the RTC board. He said now that the report is done, it is up to the public to weigh in and prioritize.

"What the community thinks are the priorities?" he said, "What's most important to our citizens?" 

Brown said officials already have the buy in from the gaming industry, which hasn't always been the case. 

"The commitment that was made by the gaming industry to address this issue, to address this quarter, as never been greater," he said, "The acknowledgment that something needs to be done as never been greater."

One of the biggest projects proposed by the RTC is to put a light rail system along Las Vegas Boulevard. However, the system is not part of the RTC budget. 

Swallow said that is because the bus system along the Strip pays for itself and they expect the rail system to do the same. 

"If we were to go for say a light rail system down the Strip, we're looking at that extra revenue to help pay for the light rail," he said. 

Brown said other cities have shown that light rail works and people will choose to ride it over buses. 

"That light rail is the next step beyond the bus system, but the bus system will never go away," Brown said, "Certainly, from the cities we've studied that consumer response, that survey, is that light rail is far more effective."

Brown said improving our overall transportation is crucial for the region's economy.

"It's going to keep us at the front of the line," he said. "It is going to make us more competitive.. to compete with the Orlandos, and the Chicagos and other destination cities."

He said infrastructure is often a forgotten piece of public service, but it is an crucial one. 

The report also proposes street cars along Maryland Parkway from the airport to Fremont Street, better loading and unloading zones at the airport, better walkways for pedestrians and a monorail connection to a proposed high-speed train. 



David Swallow, senior director of engineering and technology, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern NevadaLarry Brown, Clark County Commissioner and chairman of the RTC board

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