Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
About 420 local business and community leaders got terrific news Tuesday about the state of the Southern Nevada economy during a breakfast presentation by the Las Vegas Global and Economic Alliance.
But here’s hoping the audience members hadn’t shifted their attention back to their eggs and bacon as Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the LVGEA, discussed the steps needed for the valley’s economy to keep humming along.
Key among those steps was to improve our transportation system, which is suffering from a deadly combination of being designed for a bygone time and being swamped by a growing number of vehicles.
As Peterson pointed out, the Southern Nevada population is forecast to balloon by 600,000 over the next seven years while visitor numbers are projected to grow by 10 million in that same time. The math works out to this: By 2025, Las Vegas will be home to 2.7 million residents and will draw 53 million annual visitors.
Those are staggering numbers, and building enough roads to handle that many more people simply isn’t feasible. In some cases — most notably the Las Vegas Strip — it’s not even possible. Las Vegas Boulevard is as wide as it’s going to get.
So how do we move forward?
One crucial need is to enhance and expand multimodal transportation, a strategy that would include building a light-rail system connecting McCarran International Airport, the Strip and eventually downtown and North Las Vegas.
Another critical step is to embrace autonomous vehicles, like the driverless shuttle that has been operating downtown since November.
Combined with continued build-out of the Interstate 11 project linking Phoenix and Las Vegas, the improvements would help visitors get here and get around while they’re here.
Failing to move forward isn’t an option if Las Vegas wants to remain globally competitive.
Other cities long ago recognized the need for more efficient public transportation, notably light rail. San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, even Salt Lake City saw the light, to name a few communities in our general vicinity, and have built excellent systems.
They recognized light rail for what it is: a modern-day necessity, not a luxury, to attract tourists and convention visitors, and to keep a workforce moving smoothly and efficiently.
Every day Las Vegas doesn’t make progress toward a light-rail system, the improvement gets more costly and overdue. And the roads and highways get more crowded.
Keep in mind, too, that the Strip is about to get a lot more crowded — particularly on the northern end. Wynn Resorts’ Paradise Park project and the new hotel it plans to build across the street from the Wynn and Encore will add at least 3,500 hotel rooms to the city’s inventory in the next couple of years, and Genting Resorts World will add 3,000 more. The Las Vegas Convention Center expansion on the site of the former Riviera resort will generate increased traffic on the Strip, as well.
So it’s vital for local, state and congressional leaders to get on board and make light-rail a top priority.
The stakes are enormous. Peterson pointed out that Business Facilities Magazine, which specializes in information for corporations looking to expand or relocate, listed Nevada at No. 3 in its most recent rankings for economic growth potential.
The local economy is diversifying, wages are rising, employment is at an all-time high and our housing market is healthy, Peterson said. Another encouraging sign: The median household income of residents relocating to Nevada is nearly 20 percent higher today than in 2012, and the median age is down.
So the signs are pointing to a promising future. But for Las Vegas to reach its full potential, it’s imperative that we go full speed on light rail.