Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 | 1:59 a.m.
The long process of bringing light rail to Las Vegas has begun.
It’s being handled by a mix of related but distinct groups made up of government officials, resort representatives and others.
The push started more than three years ago, when Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, brought local tourism industry leaders together to talk about transportation issues. Ralenkotter made it clear from the outset the group needed to think beyond its own specific interests about how to keep Las Vegas globally competitive, according to Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission.
The group met regularly for several months before bringing in the firm ch2m as a consultant to craft a detailed, long-term vision for transportation in Southern Nevada. The result, about 18 months later, was the Transportation Investment Business Plan.
The plan includes a long list of suggestions, such as new pedestrian bridges and wider sidewalks on the Strip, road and freeway improvements, expansion of the monorail and a circulator trolley downtown. But the most significant recommendation was for light rail to connect the airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.
Light rail is an attractive option because it could grow into a transit system that serves the entire region and has the flexibility to include both street-level and underground segments. The plan also notes the Strip’s high number of fare-paying customers could help attract private investment.
So far, the plan has been presented to the RTC’s board and the board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It is slated to be presented to the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee this month. That committee is playing a key role in determining the future for major tourism projects in Las Vegas. Convened last summer by Gov. Brian Sandoval, the group is tasked with evaluating the area’s tourism-related infrastructure, establishing priorities and making recommendations for how best to move forward.
A report from the committee to Sandoval and the Legislature is expected this summer.
Meanwhile, the transportation plan has been available for public review since it was released in December (Download the plan here). Quigley expects to bring a final version of the plan, incorporating changes from the public and various boards, back to the RTC board in March.
At that point, Quigley said she expects to ask for guidance in a few key areas. One likely will be seeking the formation of another group, the Resort Corridor Mobility Association, to help carry out proposals in the plan.
The RTC also will need direction from its board on evaluating light rail and the different ways of implementing it.
You've got questions. We've got answers.
• How much would it cost to build? Depending on how and where a light rail line is built, it could cost anywhere from $600 million to $5.7 billion, which RTC officials project would amount to $2 billion to $12 billion in 10 to 20 years when the system likely would be built. Much of the cost depends on whether the system is built above ground or underground and how many miles the line travels. There would be additional costs for operation and maintenance.
• Where would the funding come from? The project could be paid for using a combination of federal sources, taxes and local revenue, including sales tax, parking fees, naming rights and grants awarded through the Federal Transit Authority.
• How much would it cost to ride? RTC officials expect the light rail line to cost money to ride, but no fare amounts have been discussed. However, it’s still early in the process, and the fare proposal could change.
• Is this plan a done deal? No. None of these plans is set in stone. In fact, RTC officials expect plans could change as stakeholders and the public weigh in. The RTC proposal represents a basic outline of a working light rail system, but a full-fledged plan ready to be executed remains a long way off.
• What comes next? The next step is to conduct an environmental study, which should take three to five years. Designing and funding the project likely would take another three to five years, then construction could begin.