News - December 14, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

A proposed light-rail transportation system along Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas -- which would connect the airport to downtown, UNLV and key stops in between -- would be a boon for economic development and a good bet for millions of dollars in federal funding, the general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada said on Nevada Newsmakers.

"It has a lot of opportunity for economic development," said RTC GM Tina Quigley about the proposed 8.7-mile rail route. "It is a corridor that is ripe and right for developer interest. And we hear from developers all the time: When is it going to happen?

"They want to invest," Quigley said about developers. "They want to build. They want to build stores and employment centers and we're just waiting."

Yet the project -- which could potentially be finished by 2023 -- won't proceed without federal funding covering half of the cost, Quigley said. Reports in the Las Vegas Sun estimate the project could cost more than $700 million.

"We think we can get the thing done if we can get 50 percent federal funding," Quigley said. "If we can't, then we will have to talk about other ways of funding that project."

The importance of the project gives Quigley a sense that federal funding will be secured. The route of the light-rail project now carries 33,000 vehicles and 9,000 transit riders daily. An estimated 35,000 people work in the corridor, the Sun reported.

It is "an insanely competitive route" when it comes to federal funding, Quigley said.

"I mean, it would just kick butt over routes in Kansas City, Tulsa, Okla., or wherever else they are currently building light rail," she said.

Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio, are the only two major metropolitan areas in the United States that do not have mass transit systems between the airports and downtown areas, Quigley has said, according to the Sun

The proposed 8.7 mile corridor would link McCarran International Airport with the UNLV campus, the Boulevard Mall and the Sunrise Medical District. That route would run north-to-south on Maryland Parkway. Yet the route could also be extended west to the Las Vegas Medical District and the site of the new UNLV School of Medicine, Quigley said.

"In doing so, you have connected so many destinations and so many different employment centers within a close proximity of so many rooftops, that the ridership will be actually really high," Quigley said. "It (ridership) will also be high by the evaluation standards that the feds use in choosing systems they are going to invest in. It is a great corridor."

The Nevada Legislature approved three bills during the 2017 session to allow the RTC to pursue long-term, mass-transit solutions to the Maryland Parkway corridor, including light rail and street cars. The legislation also gives the RTC of Southern Nevada until the end of 2020 to ask Clark County voters for a sales tax hike to help fund the project.

"It will move people," Quigley said. "Right now, Maryland Parkway is one of our highest (bus) ridership routes. I think we have over 9,000 people a day riding that route.

Quigley said an environmental study on the project will be released soon.

"That study is wrapping up," she said. "They are wrapping up the environmental part and will go out to public comment, I believe, early next year and then we'll see what happens from there."

Public meetings will be held after the environmental study is released, Quigley said on Nevada Newsmakers.

If the public does not support the light-rail system, the project likely would be shelved and replaced by one with more community support, the Sun reported.