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Tourism committee begins examining light rail, other transit plans

Denver Light Rail

Associated Press File Photo

The Regional Transportation District’s light rail train arrives at the Broadway station in south Denver.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 | 8 p.m.

Light rail, an expanded monorail and new pedestrian bridges on the Strip were among the key transportation proposals examined Thursday, at some points critically, by an influential group of local tourism leaders.

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee met to hear in detail about transportation proposals, including many covered by a sweeping plan recently released by the Regional Transportation Commission. Called the Transportation Investment Business Plan, it suggests a wide range of initiatives, one of them being a light rail system that would link the airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.

Many details about the light rail proposal remain up in the air, including whether the system would be built at, above or below street level, and where exactly all of the stations would be located. It’s also not certain that local officials will decide to move forward with all aspects of the plan.

As currently envisioned, the light rail system would connect McCarran International Airport to the Strip via one of a few potential routes, then run down Las Vegas Boulevard and into downtown. The cost varies by billions of dollars depending at what level it is built.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a member of the infrastructure committee, expressed concern early Thursday about the logistics of making light rail happen, saying it would be difficult to build such a system on Las Vegas Boulevard without causing major disruption. Later in the meeting, he was also very skeptical of the high cost.

Excluding the costs of building and operating light rail, the transit investment plan is expected to cost between $7 and $12 billion. Officials have said light rail could cost between $2.1 and $12.5 billion overall.

Sisolak was uneasy about the big price tag.

“These numbers are becoming crazy astronomical,” he said at one point.

Committee members were particularly impressed with a plan presented by Clark County officials for an elevated expressway to more quickly move cars between the airport and the resort corridor. Traffic would be one way on each expressway segment, which would include Koval Lane and Paradise Road.

Other big proposals discussed with the committee Thursday include two significant pedestrian bridges on the Strip. One would be built in an X-shape in the Bellagio-Paris Las Vegas area, connecting the east and west sides of Las Vegas Boulevard; the other would have a similar effect but be built in a circular shape at the Sahara Avenue intersection.

Additionally, the committee heard about plans to expand the Las Vegas Monorail by adding a station for the Sands Expo Center and bringing it over to Mandalay Bay. That’s seen as a desirable move to link the Las Vegas area’s major convention centers.

The monorail may also extend to the airport, and that could theoretically happen in addition to a light rail system that also ran there. But Monorail CEO Curtis Myles said the convention center-focused expansion is the top priority.

“Mandalay Bay is the best bet we have,” he said.

The committee also heard about possible high-capacity transit on Maryland Parkway, the Xpress West high-speed rail system between Las Vegas and Southern California and other transit plans.

In the latter half of the daylong meeting, officials from Orlando, San Diego, Utah, San Francisco and Denver spoke about big transit projects in their communities. Paul Jablonski, CEO of San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System, said as his area works on expanding its light rail system, it faces “virtually no detractors.”

“People have been wondering what’s taken so long,” Jablonski said. “That’s the most common question: ‘Why don’t we have it already?’”

The committee has been meeting for months to evaluate Southern Nevada’s infrastructure needs for arenas, convention centers, the airport and more. It’s supposed to submit a report to the governor this summer.

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