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Light Rail On Horizon For Las Vegas, Says RTC

maryland_rendering.jpg

Regional Transportation Commission

Rendering of a light rail line along Maryland Parkway.

For the past three years, a study has been underway about how to with deal transportation along one of the busiest and most important corridors in Southern Nevada: Maryland Parkway.

The street is significant because it connects UNLV, Boulevard Mall and Sunrise Hospital.

Now, an advisory committee made up of business owners, representatives of the university and the hospital, along with labor unions and community members have recommended a solution: light rail.

The light rail line would cost twice as much as adding more bus lanes, but a member of the advisory committee said what convinced him to say 'yes' is the increased economic development it would bring.

Committee member Warren Hardy is a former member of the Nevada State Senate. He admitted he was a "healthy skeptic" about the rail line, but after visiting other cities with similar systems and vetting the whole idea, he came to the conclusion it is the right thing for that area of the city.

"I think in terms of development and redevelopment, it is clearly worth the effort," Hardy said.

He said all the developers he spoke with about the project said, unlike bus routes, light rail systems provide steel in the ground -- a permanent infrastructure that development can be built around.

"I think it is one way that a government can have some influence on where we want economic development and redevelopment," he said.

Support comes from

Hardy was clear that light rail may not be right for every part of the Las Vegas Valley. For instance, he doesn't think it is the right fit for the Las Vegas Strip.

But since the rail line along Maryland Parkway would connect McCarran Airport, UNLV, the retail area around Boulevard Mall, Sunrise Hospital and turn to get to University Medical Center and then back down Charleston to connect back to itself, Hardy believes it a unique corridor with a potential to be a game changer.

With the price tag set at twice what adding extra and updated buses would be, the big question for everyone is how will it be paid for.

Tina Quigley with the Regional Transportation Commission said the plan is to leverage federal funding for the estimated $750 million for the system.

"There's not just one bucket that you go to for a project like this," Quigley said. "The primary source would be the federal government, the FTA -- the Federal Transit Administration. They have a program called New Start. It's a competitive program."

Quigley said through the grant, the Valley could get almost 50 percent of the project paid for. They're also planning to get money from traffic congestion mitigation grants, and possibly tax increases based on property value increases.

Hardy, a self-described Reagan Republican, said how federal funding could be leveraged to pay for a large slice of the project is one of the best parts about it.

"These are federal dollars that are going somewhere," he said. "Why not get them to Southern Nevada?"

And while the New Start program is competitive, he doesn't believe there is another project out there with the same power to transform the community like this light rail project will.  

While funding still needs to be worked out, Hardy said some people's philosophy around funding these kinds of projects needs to change.

"We have this expectation that our transportation projects should 'pay for themselves,'" he said. "Well, last time I checked Sahara Avenue doesn't pay for itself. Flamingo Road doesn't pay for itself. So why do we have this expectation, when really what we're talking about is moving people from point A to point B?"  

There are questions that remain, including whether the line will run along Maryland Parkway or down the center. Staff at the RTC recommend a side-running line. Wherever the line goes both Hardy and Quigley say it won't interfere with businesses along the road and people's abilities to turn left.  

There are also questions what kind of disruption businesses will face during construction. Hardy was quick to reassure business owners disruption is one of the most important questions his advisory committee is looking at.

One of the largest questions still unanswered about the light rail system is where will it go next once the spine along Maryland Parkway is finished.

Hardy was clear. "This is the start of the process," he said. "This is the start of an opportunity to bring our community to where it needs to be in terms of transportation."

The RTC board will take its vote on the project in September.

If the board says yes and federal funding comes through the way everyone wants it to, Quigley said people could be riding light rail up and down Maryland Parkway by 2025. 

Guests

Tina Quigley, general manager, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada; Warren Hardy, former Nevada State Senator (R-NV12, 2003-2009)

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