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August 28, 2015

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Public Safety:

With bus-stop tragedy in mind, iconic Las Vegas sign may be due for safety upgrades

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Sam Morris

Tourists pose in front of the iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign

The deaths of four people at a Spring Mountain Road bus stop still were fresh on the minds of county commissioners this week, leading to the postponement of one insurance decision and possibly more expense related to the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

The iconic sign always has been a popular backdrop for picture-taking tourists. But after the county improved accessibility almost four years ago by building a 10-space parking lot next to it, the sign is now a virtual mecca for tourists. Fairly soon, too, the county will add 20 more parking spaces after commissioners months ago approved $500,000 to pay for the construction.

The problem is that the sign is also smack dab in the middle of a Las Vegas Boulevard median. According to a 2010 study, 50,000 vehicles pass that sign going north and south every day.

Commissioners on Tuesday were asked to approve an application for a $1 million grant from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. With another $325,000 from the county, the money will go toward safety improvements such as crosswalks and flashing lights to warn vehicles when pedestrians are crossing the road.

Before approving that application, which commissioners did unanimously, they asked for more funding.

Mary Beth Scow, whose district includes part of the sign area, said on a recent Tuesday afternoon that she witnessed buses pulling in and out and pedestrians darting across the road to get to and from the sign.

“For me, the pedestrian crossing is the biggest need due to the speed of the cars,” she said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak asked that the fence around the median be reinforced.

“I know we can’t stop everything, but that’s an area I’d really like to look at,” he said.

Susan Brager, commission chairwoman, recounted her experience at age 19 when a drunk driver hit her, as a pedestrian, and nearly killed her. That history, coupled with last week’s multideath accident, led Brager to ask Public Works Director Denis Cederburg to look into a pedestrian bridge or, at the least, traffic lights at the sign.

The county encourages people to visit the sign, Brager said, so it also needs to do what it can to make it safe.

“It can’t just be a flashing light,” Brager said. “I think it needs to be a red light.”

Cederburg said a pedestrian bridge with escalators and an elevator would cost about $4.5 million; a long ramp-style bridge that also complies with federal laws could be built for about $750,000.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani asked Cederburg to also look into a design that incorporates the less expensive pedestrian ramp as well as fencing that doesn’t allow people to easily cross the street.

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Just before that vote, the commission refused to accept a $10,000 payment from Geico General Insurance for a 2010 car accident that caused $26,000 in damage to crash cushions at Russell Road and Arville Street.

A county attorney said the 21-year-old female driver did not own the vehicle, and the owner’s policy offered a maximum of $10,000. Rescuers took the driver to a hospital in serious condition.

Sisolak pointed to a note in the Metro Police report that reminded him, too, of the bus stop accident.

In that report, an officer checked the box that said the young woman “had been drinking.” She told police, the report also says, that she fell asleep because she had been up all night. She was on the way to work just before 5 a.m. when she hit the crash barrier.

So where is the blood-alcohol test, Sisolak asked, and how much has University Medical Center been reimbursed by the victim for her medical care? (Later, Sisolak reported that UMC said attempts to collect from the woman were not successful.)

The woman was cited for inattentive driving. The 1990 Toyota 4Runner was totaled.

“But for the grace of God this could have been driven into a group of people standing at the side of the road,” Sisolak said.

A county attorney said police acknowledged the young woman had been drinking, “but it wasn’t a factor in the accident,” so the case wasn’t forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. The attorney did not know if a test had been done on the woman to determine how much alcohol was in her system.

“I’ve got a real problem that you have an accident report, she had been drinking, we don’t know how much,” Sisolak said. “I don’t like the fact that we’re letting it go. I want to know what happened. This just seems more severe than just getting it shuffled through here.”

The county’s attorney said it would be difficult to get more than $10,000 from the insurance company, calling it “fiscally if not morally prudent” to take the money.

“If that would have been — I don’t even want to bring up the words ‘bus stop’ — we’d have another tragedy in this community,” Sisolak said. “We’re getting a warning notice here.”

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of Sisolak’s motion to hold off on a vote pending more information from Metro and UMC.

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