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December 13, 2018

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‘At a crossroads,’ RTC launches meetings on long-term transit plan

Phoenix light rail I 042016

Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority

A Valley Metro Rail train is shown on the Arizona State University campus in Phoenix. Built at a cost of $1.4 billion, the light-rail system became operational in 2008 and since has been expanded from 20 miles to 26. As Phoenix proceeds with plans to add 40 miles to the system by 2034, officials in the Las Vegas Valley have begun discussing proposals to establish a light-rail system here.

How residents and tourists will get around in the Las Vegas Valley for the next 20 years is the subject of the Regional Transportation Commission’s On Board initiative.

In the first of several stakeholder and community engagement meetings on Wednesday, the RTC laid out its preliminary plans and asked those in attendance their concerns and suggestions for getting Southern Nevada mass transit flowing smoothly and efficiently.

“This will be the largest community outreach effort that the RTC has done in a long time,” said Tina Quigley, general manager of the RTC. “We’re at a crossroads where we need to start figuring out where we want to be investing in transit.”

On Board is a four-part study to be conducted in the next 18 months: purpose and need; developing alternatives; evaluating alternatives; and recommendations and the final plan.

Growth was a focal point during Wednesday’s meeting at the Nevada State Museum. The valley’s population and visitor count are forecasted to surge in the next eight years.

The Las Vegas Valley’s population is expected to grow from 2.1 million to 2.7 million by 2025, RTC officials said.

“The city of Henderson has around 300,000 people, so imagine adding the population of two more Hendersons in the next 10 years,” said Raymond Hess, RTC director of planning. “That’s going to create more demand on the infrastructure and more demand on the valley.”

The visitor count is forecast to increase by 10 million, jumping from 43 million visitors to 53 million by 2025, RTC officials said.

The highest demand for transit will expand from around the resort corridor and downtown Las Vegas today to areas in Henderson, the north part of the valley and Summerlin by 2040, they said.

RTC transit buses carry about 140,000 residential passengers per weekday, with 85 percent of riders using the system to get to and from work.

“This is an important workforce mobility mechanism, so it's really important, especially for lower-income people to get to their jobs,” Hess said.

Although only 25 percent of the RTC’s total transit ridership is generated on the Strip — about 35,000 passengers per weekday — those rides account for 30 percent of the RTC’s transit revenue.

The RTC operates at an efficient rate, according to data collected by the National Transit Database. The RTC was No. 1 in operating cost ($2.12 per trip), subsidy ($1.02 per trip) and fare recovery — the amount of expenses that were covered by fares paid on transit rides — at 51.9 percent, compared to the national average of 20 to 30 percent, according to Hess.

On Board will consider traditional bus service, high-capacity transit options such as light rail and emerging transit technology such as ride-share options.

RTC will look to improve existing transit options with additional bus routes and more frequent service.

The RTC is gauging the interest of public and private entities on light rail and bus rapid transit, which is already used in downtown Las Vegas.

“When we talk about bus rapid transit … it’s the streetcar-style buses, with platforms to get on in the middle of the roadway with dedicated lanes,” Hess said. “Things you may have experienced in other communities like Denver, Portland, Phoenix and Seattle, those are the things that we’re talking about with high-capacity transit.”

When polled, the crowd overwhelmingly chose adding more high-capacity transit, especially light rail.

The RTC is studying what transportation options work best in larger cities, specifically in Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City in the intermountain West region. San Diego and Orlando are being studied as well because they have similar tourism characteristics to Las Vegas.

Those who attended were also asked where they think high-capacity transit would work in the valley. The majority of the responses said Maryland Parkway, McCarran International Airport, near the resort corridor, the future Las Vegas Raiders stadium site near Russell Road and Interstate 15 and downtown.

Future development in the context of improved public transit is another consideration of the On Board initiative.

“We’re looking at transit and coordination with the adjacent land usage,” Hess said. “Density is important. When you have so many people per acre, whether that’s jobs or population, you don’t expect everyone to take transit. But that density of people is important to get butts on the seats on either light rail or buses, or whatever the case may be.”

As far as emerging trends and technology, Hess said the RTC is looking at Uber, Lyft and other apps and to incorporate into the larger transit plans.

“We want to make sure we’re looking forward to make sure it doesn't become obsolete next year,” he said. “We can’t predict everything, so we want to make sure we have different measures identifying a plan, so we’re smarter about what to look out for in the future.”

Incorporating high-capacity transit will make Southern Nevada a better place to live, work and play by improving access to jobs schools, shopping, entertainment and recreational opportunities, Hess said.

Additionally, Hess said high-capacity transit options can improve the health and safety of the community.

“There’s (improved) air quality. Transit riders are also pedestrians — they walk to the bus stop, so that active lifestyle will help the community's overall health, he said.”

Adding high-capacity transit can also attract a more talented workforce, making the area more competitive in the job market, Hess said.

“We’ve heard some employers in the region say that we’re missing out on some opportunities, because millennials like the lifestyle that’s offered in Denver and other places because some of the options that they had, including light rail,” Hess said.

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