Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Sun Editorial:

Road to ruin: Clark County’s plan for expressway needs to dead-end

Imagine if you met with the architect designing your new home and discovered that the plans included lead plumbing pipes, a coal-burning furnace and an embarrassingly outdated motif.

Today, Clark County is offering the transportation version of that experience.

The county is holding an “open house” to introduce local residents to its cheap, dirty, ugly and antiquated proposal for easing congestion on the Strip — a four-lane elevated expressway from McCarran International Airport to a route alongside Las Vegas Boulevard.

The idea for this $200 million debacle has been lurking around for about 18 months, having surfaced about the same time that discussion of an infinitely better solution — a light-rail system — started to gather serious steam.

Proponents of the elevated expressway say it would be a relatively inexpensive way to make traffic flow more smoothly on and around the Strip, but they’re correct only in terms of the short-term costs.

In the long term, building these roads would be a disaster. Just ask planners in cities across the world who have either torn the things down or are in the process of doing so, a list that includes Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Montreal, Seoul, Madrid and more.

They’ll tell you that elevated expressways, a relic from the 1950s and 1960s, cause all kinds of problems. As has been shown in city after city, the roads create swaths of no-man’s-land where no one wants to work or do business. As a result, neighborhoods are cut off from the rest of the community and fall into decay as residents and business owners flee and criminals and vagrants move in.

Crime increases in such neighborhoods have been well-documented, and there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t happen here. The area immediately to the east of the heart of the Strip is already struggling — it’s home to some of the lowest-income and highest-crime ZIP codes in the Las Vegas Valley — and it would be further cut off by the expressway.

In addition, elevated expressways run counter to modern planning efforts to make cities more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, more green and thus more attractive to younger people, who have a greater tendency than older generations not to own cars.

Beyond those problems, which in themselves are reason enough not to build the roads, the plan actually threatens to increase congestion on the Strip, not ease it.

That’s because the way to ease congestion in the tourist corridor is to reduce the number of cars in it, not to create a faster-flowing way for traffic to get to and from it. That’s why it makes sense to explore light rail, bus rapid transit or some other type of modern mass transit system, which would result in fewer McCarran passengers taking taxis, rental cars and ride-share vehicles and clogging up the streets. Through use of park-and-ride lots, such a system would also give resort workers a convenient alternative to taking their cars to and from work.

Elevated expressways, meanwhile, would actually make congestion worse at the route’s choke points — the Strip and McCarran. Speeding up the flow of traffic between those points won’t do any good unless the funnel ends are enlarged or cleared out, and that’s not happening.

So for a variety of reasons, it’s a mistake for Las Vegas to revert to a 70-year-old approach that has been proven time and time again to be detrimental to communities.

What’s especially disappointing is that the county is lurching forward with the expressway proposal at the same time the Regional Transportation Commission is exploring light-rail for the Maryland Parkway corridor and developing a long-range plan to improve transit valleywide, examining light rail, bus rapid transit and modern-technology solutions like autonomous shuttles.

With traffic on the Strip is getting worse all the time, and on its way toward really becoming hellish this fall when the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League start their season, it’s imperative that planners from all local governments get on board with the RTC.

With so much technology being brought to bear on transportation, the idea of going with something so retrogressive as an elevated expressway is nonsensical.

After today’s open house, it’s time to close the book on the proposal for good.

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