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April 23, 2017

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Are Las Vegas roads ready for game day?

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Courtesy of MANICA Architechture

An artist’s illustration of a stadium on Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard was revealed during a Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meeting at UNLV Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.

As public officials scrutinized plans to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas during a recent meeting, a question about the football fan experience emerged: Could the stadium sites accommodate tailgating?

“Both provide enough (space) for tailgating,” Oakland Raiders President Marc Badain told the Southern Nevada Transportation Infrastructure Committee on Aug. 25. “You don’t need 15,000 spots for tailgating.”

Badain’s response assured football fanatics that, yes, Las Vegas would make the game atmosphere just as lively as other NFL cities. The leading site contenders — acreage west of Interstate 15 near Russell Road and land now occupied by the Bali Hai golf course on Las Vegas Boulevard — could handle enough vehicles for that time-honored tradition.

The tailgating inquiry ended there, but behind the scenes, developers and transportation officials have been considering a related matter: traffic.

The Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Majestic Realty Co., the developers hoping to build the stadium and bring the Raiders here, expect to complete their traffic-impact study in several weeks.

“We are overly concerned about transportation, parking and infrastructure,” said Andy Abboud, Sands’ senior vice president for government relations and community development. “It needs to be as convenient as possible.”

The developers think the Russell Road and Bali Hai sites would yield the coveted convenience factor, given their proximity to highways and the Strip, as well as adequate parking options. The stadium would feature between 7,050 and 15,500 parking spaces, depending on the site chosen, Abboud said, adding that the Las Vegas Monorail’s planned extension to Mandalay Bay could help shuttle guests closer to the stadium. Even so, a key concern is how badly the extra vehicle volume would snarl local roadways before or after stadium events.

The developers’ traffic-impact study should give a clearer picture based on the venue’s layout and how they anticipate guests will access it, said Denis Cederburg, Clark County’s director of public works. “It’s a lot of wait-and-see.”

Although the stadium project isn’t a done deal, the traffic nexus isn’t lost on state or local leaders. The topic surfaced during an August meeting of the Nevada Department of Transportation board of directors, which includes Gov. Brian Sandoval. He expressed a desire to study the traffic impact as much as possible in the interim.

NDOT officials haven’t had conversations with the developers, but the state traffic agency has embarked on its own preliminary study examining how a stadium at the Russell Road or Bali Hai site could affect area roadways, spokesman Tony Illia said.

“We don’t necessarily have any immediate plans for upgrading infrastructure around those two areas,” he said. “As they are now, they function fine, but obviously if you plop down a huge stadium … that really changes everything.”

Traffic jams wouldn’t just be headaches for stadium attendees or people driving in the area when there’s an event. Airport officials are curious about how ground transportation would flow, particularly on Sundays, the busiest day for flights.

Traffic plans need to ensure that stadium events don’t “obstruct our passengers from getting to and from the airport,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation at McCarran International Airport.

Tina Quigley, head of the Regional Transportation Commission, said she expected it would take a team effort to address needed traffic improvements for a stadium. NDOT, RTC and the city and county departments of public works likely would work with the project developers on solutions, she said.

NDOT has jurisdiction over Interstate 15, and Russell Road is a county thoroughfare, which is why multiple agencies would be involved.

The looming question, transportation officials said, was how much money the improvements would cost and who would pay for them. NDOT did not factor stadium-related transit improvements into its budget, which runs through June 30.

Abboud said the developers included contingency funds for transportation upgrades in their project budget. The amount was not disclosed.

Stakeholders seem to agree that all methods of easing traffic congestion should be considered. That could include altering traffic light schedules, adding turn lanes, hiring police to direct traffic during events, rerouting roadways, creating a park-and-ride lot and exploring bigger changes to Southern Nevada’s mass-transit system, such as building light rail.

A stadium would be another reason for the community to examine how to most efficiently move people around the region, Quigley said.

“There’s not just going to be one answer,” she said. “It’s going to have to be a portfolio of all different kinds of solutions.”

The region’s transportation future has been under the microscope this year. In April, the RTC adopted a wide-ranging, long-term plan to improve transit. The Transportation Investment Business Plan sets forth a vision with a number of project proposals, including adding light rail, extending the monorail and building an elevated expressway connecting the airport to the Strip.

Meanwhile, Project Neon, the nearly $1 billion construction project to reshape traffic flow around the Spaghetti Bowl, kicked off this spring.

In a city run on hospitality and positive visitor experiences, transportation officials said traffic logistics would need to be a top priority if a stadium is built.

“The overall fan experience of attending a game, in part, will be made or broken by how easily (guests) are able to get there and leave there,” Illia said. Any traffic frustrations could make people “think twice about going to the game.”

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