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June 28, 2016

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RTC unveils long-ranging transportation plan that includes light rail

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John Locher / AP

In this Sept. 16, 2014, photo taken with a slow-shutter speed, lights of cars blur along Las Vegas Boulevard. Las Vegas doesn’t exactly have a work-commute problem, but the 4-mile Strip often gets clogged with tourist traffic.

Updated Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 | 8 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

The Regional Transportation Commission proposals focus on the central part of the valley, or what the transit plan calls the “core area.”

Southern Nevada tourism leaders on Monday unveiled an ambitious, multibillion-dollar transit plan that could make substantial upgrades to the way people move around Las Vegas over the next few decades, including through the creation of a light rail system.

The 30-year transit plan released by the Regional Transportation Commission proposes light rail in the resort corridor, an expanded monorail that would connect the major convention centers and various roadway improvements, among other projects.

Officials from the transportation commission and other local leaders discussed the initiative, known formally as the Transportation Investment Business Plan, with reporters Monday.

The goal is to prevent the Las Vegas area’s roadways from becoming overwhelmed by the anticipated growth in visitation and resident population in future years. It’s also intended to diversify the economy and keep Southern Nevada on pace with other areas that have made major investments in transportation.

It comes with a big price tag. Even without factoring in the funding necessary to actually build and maintain the light rail system, the plan is projected to cost from $7 billion to $12 billion.

The bulk of that would likely come from local funds, including fare revenue and sales tax revenue from the transportation commission. But the plan has not yet figured out how to fund everything: A gap of $3.7 billion to $6.6 billion remains based on Monday’s presentation. The plan could require using debt strategies or pay-as-you-go methods in order to implement, according to the presentation.

If it does all come together, however, the transit proposals would have a projected total economic impact of $56 billion to $178 billion, and they could create as many as 122,000 jobs, according to the commission.

Light rail planning and design estimates were factored into the overall cost figures, but construction, operation and maintenance were not. The plan anticipates that such a system could receive as much as 46 percent of its funds from the federal government and would be an attractive opportunity for private partnership.

Currently envisioned to connect the Strip, downtown and the airport, light rail could cost from $2.1 billion to $12.5 billion. Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis said the costs vary widely depending on whether the system would be built at, above or below street level.

But light rail is just one of many big proposals included in the transit plan. Another would extend the Las Vegas Monorail over to Mandalay Bay and add a new station at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, allowing for easier and more direct movement among the city’s major convention facilities.

The plan also focuses on improving the experience for pedestrians on the Strip. It suggests seven new pedestrian bridges there, including an “iconic” circular one on Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South, and widened sidewalks — or, in some areas, elevated ones.

Other major elements of the plan include a possible “circulator trolley” to move people around downtown, a high-capacity transit line on Maryland Parkway, new transit centers and a range of possible improvements to the valley’s freeways and major roads.

The proposals all focus on the central part of the valley, or what the transit plan calls the “core area.” That includes the Strip, downtown, UNLV and the airport, as well as other nearby spots.

The commission’s board is expected to hear a presentation about the transit plan this week. After that, the commission intends to bring it to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the governor’s Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

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