Las Vegas Sun

July 19, 2019

Currently: 94° — Complete forecast


All aboard with light rail moving Las Vegas another step toward big-city status

A special group of people gave Las Vegas something to cheer about recently, and we’re not just talking about the Vegas Golden Knights.

The group in this case was a Regional Transportation Commission advisory panel that recently agreed to recommend construction of what would be the city’s first light rail system.

The recommendation was a big moment for the community. Light rail promises to be transformative for Las Vegas, not only from the standpoint of transportation but as a driver of business development in the central valley.

For residents in the area, it will provide a quick and convenient link to McCarran International Airport, Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, University Medical Center, downtown Las Vegas, Boulevard mall, the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North, the Clark County administrative center and more. There’s also a stop at the Bonneville Transit Center, offering connections to buses.

As for the business impact, light rail systems are a proven magnet for commercial projects, high-density housing and other development. The system in Phoenix drove $8.2 billion in economic development in just its first seven years of operation, for example, while Denver’s system has yielded $2 billion in development for the city’s Lower Downtown area alone.

The advisory group — formally the RTC’s Resource Advisory Committee and Community Collaboration, or TRAC — could have elected to recommend a cheaper option in the form of a $335 million bus rapid-transit system.

But TRAC made the right call. After studying light rail in other cities, business representatives on the panel became convinced that the mode was right for Las Vegas because of the economic development potential.

The system is a long way from becoming operational, and first must clear a couple of key hurdles. One, it needs to be approved by the RTC’s board of directors in September. Two, the RTC will need to land the federal funding needed for construction.

But assuming it keeps moving forward, local officials should start doing all they can to expand it.

Meanwhile, it’s imperative for officials to keep driving toward adding light rail to the Strip.

With McCarran International Airport setting a passenger record last year and visitor numbers still going strong, Las Vegas can no longer put off dealing with traffic congestion in the tourist corridor. And with major projects either in motion or being planned on the North Strip — Genting Resorts World, the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and transformation of the Fontainebleau to The Drew — it’s only going to get more crowded.

That’s a major concern in a city that counts on its visitor experience to keep people coming and maintain its economic vitality. Getting stuck in traffic isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time.

Plus, light rail on Las Vegas Boulevard would provide a vital connection between North and South Strip developments that will confer a sustainable tourism advantage for years to come.

And in terms of economic activity, the billions in development that other cities have drawn through their systems could be amplified here because of the nature of the Strip. Considering that Las Vegas attracts about twice as many visitors annually as Phoenix, it’s feasible that the Strip portion of a light rail system could generate more than $16 billion alone.

So the TRAC recommendation was huge. Light rail finally appears to be heading down the tracks in Las Vegas. Officials should follow the advisory group’s lead and push ahead as fast as they can.