Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Study’s results illustrate the folly of an elevated roadway near UNLV



This artist’s rendering depicts the view of the Thomas & Mack Center, looking north from the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Swenson Street, if an elevated expressway were to be built there.

Kill it. Kill it now.

In light of a study showing that Clark County’s proposed elevated roadway near UNLV would generate at least $11.5 million in negative economic impact for the university, the county clearly needs to go back to the drawing board. Traffic congestion between McCarran International Airport and the Strip needs to be solved, no question, but placing an overpass at Tropicana Avenue and Swenson Street isn’t the way.

The study, unveiled last week, was conducted for the university by a trio of consultants specializing in infrastructure engineering, financial services and the convention, sports and leisure travel industry.

It’s an exhaustive piece of work, but it boils down to this: An elevated roadway on the southwest corner of campus would be a blight directly in front of UNLV’s front porch. The consultants determined that the project would reduce the value of the university’s current land holdings and diminish its signage, branding and digital advertising, among other effects.

In essence, the roadway would create a major image problem. For a university that is striving to become a top-tier research institution, having an overpass at the gateway would do a number on efforts to build that kind of prestige. There’s a reason you don’t see such roads near Harvard Square.

So for the UNLV impact — and for vastly larger reasons — the project should be junked. Although the county and UNLV are scheduled to discuss it again in mid-December, the best course would be for the county to scrub the idea.

The university’s ongoing development simply can’t be placed at risk, for a variety of reasons. Not only does it play a critical role in Southern Nevada’s education system, but it’s a major economic driver for the region. UNLV yields an estimated $1.2 billion in primary economic impact and would generate far more if it met its potential as a research institution. By comparison, consider that Arizona State University’s primary economic impact has been estimated at twice that of UNLV — $2.4 billion.

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that the effects of the roadway would go well beyond UNLV.

Property values near the roadway would take a hit. And given that elevated roadways have been proven to attract litter, graffiti, a variety of serious crimes and homeless camps, the entire community would be affected by this unwelcome bisection of Las Vegas. Across the nation, elevated roadways guarantee civic blight.

The $77 million overpass proposal was the county’s second bite at this apple, coming just weeks after its original $200 million elevated expressway was jeered into oblivion by local residents and business leaders.

The expressway’s critics knew what they were talking about. Elevated roadways are an outmoded design that failed spectacularly, carving dead zones into cities where residents and business flowed out and crime and poverty crept in.

That’s why cities around the world have been tearing down elevated roads in recent years.

As UNLV Acting President Marta Meana told the Nevada Board of Regents last week in releasing the study, elevated roadways “are simply bad for communities on multiple dimensions.”

That being the case, it should be abundantly clear to county officials that they shouldn’t take another bite at this rotten apple.

Instead, the county should invest its time and money into developing a light rail system between the airport and the Strip.

The logical way to relieve congestion is to get cars off the road, not pack the streets with more vehicles. Light rail would reduce traffic significantly by giving tourists and conventiongoers a convenient, inexpensive (and possibly even free) alternative to renting a car, getting a cab or using a ride-hail app.

Cities that compete with Las Vegas for tourism and convention business realize that, which is why they’ve invested in light rail and are continuing to expand their systems. Phoenix and Denver are just two regional cities where people can get off an airplane and hop onto light rail systems.

Meanwhile, unlike elevated roadways, light rail systems generate enormous residential and business development along routes.

The study underscored once again what Las Vegas residents have been saying for months. Elevated roadways aren’t our future.