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Light Rail On Maryland Parkway: Where Does The Project Stand?

maryland_rendering.jpg

Rendering of a light rail line on Maryland Parkway.

It is a project that seems to have been under consideration for years but now the head of the Regional Transportation Commission says the final public comment period for mass transit along Maryland Parkway is here.

Tina Quigley told KNPR's State of Nevada that originally public comments showed people liked a light rail option and a bus transit option equally but now after studying both options, the final decision needs to be made.

"Now, we're asking finally, 'what do you want,'" she said, "We're out for a 30 day comment period. This is the final public comment period that the FTA, the Federal Transportation Administration requires you to have."

Quigley said after the 30 days, which ends March 7, the RTC board will make a decision on what the locally preferred alternative is on April 11. There are three choices: light rail, bus rapid transit or enhancing the current bus system.

The big question could be funding for any one of the projects. Quigley said federal funds are available - not at the same rate as they were several years ago - but the federal government is funding infrastructure projects.

"The feds are making it clear communities need to step up and fund their own high capacity systems," she said, "If your community wants it, we'll contribute 25 to 30 percent but your community also needs to be willing to fund it."

Support comes from

Quigley said many developers and investors support rail systems. She said putting steel in the ground adds permanence that a bus system can't offer.

Robert Lang with Brookings Mountain West agreed.

"Steel in the ground puts steel in the air," he said, "If you put steel in the ground you're going to get structures that are made of wood but have steel frames in them because they're going to be justified to go to that level."

And while putting in the light rail system could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Lang said investing that money is something the community needs to do.

"Let's change our city's logo to 'Las Vegas: penny wise and pound foolish,' The costs! Give me a break," Lang said, "[Bus Rapid Transit] down Maryland Parkway wouldn't change anything. It would just be another bus down Maryland Parkway. Rail down Maryland Parkway is going to make Maryland Parkway the urban spine that this city has missed from the beginning."

While light rail might be the solution for Maryland Parkway, both Quigley and Lang believe Las Vegas needs to embrace a variety of transportation solutions for the valley's variety of transportation needs.

Quigley said the RTC is already working on a ride-sharing shuttle-type solution for the congestion between McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Strip. 

The pilot program may launch as early as this summer. Similar to Uber and Lyft, people would be able to use an app on their phones to call the service to pick them up and take them to the resort of their choice.

"It will be a pilot program because we need to learn," she said, "There are a lot of things to learn about it. The actual application, the logistics, is there a demand for it? So, it will be a pilot program that we'll play around with."

Another new technology that might be part of an overall solution is repurposing the monorail. In Jacksonville, Florida, transportation officials are taking the first steps to do that with their monorail.

Nathan Ford Sr., is the CEO of the Jacksonville Transporation Authority. He said the new plan will take the existing infrastructure to create a new way to get around.

"We have introduced an autonomous vehicle solution where we're going to convert the monorail aerial structure, which is a very valuable infrastructure, convert that to a roadway and then to use the new autonomous technology... that will then go to street level and be able to expand in a very flexible fashion into the community surrounding our downtown core," Ford said.

Lang is skeptical about whether the same type of solution would work in Las Vegas but he does believe the monorail should be finished out to the areas it was originally supposed to go to, including the Raiders' Stadium.

 

Guests

Tina Quigley, general manager, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada; Robert Lang, Brookings Mountain West

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KNPR's State of Nevada
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KNPR's State of Nevada