Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2019

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RTC picks bus rapid transit over light rail for Maryland Parkway

It’s official: Bus rapid transit is coming to Maryland Parkway.

The Regional Transportation Commission board voted unanimously today to upgrade public transit on Maryland Parkway by establishing a bus rapid transit line in place of existing Route 109 bus services.

The new rapid bus line, which will have dedicated lanes, will extend from McCarran International Airport to downtown Las Vegas, passing UNLV and the burgeoning Las Vegas medical district. The corridor is one of the most-traveled areas for cars and bus riders, RTC officials said.

The RTC board opted for bus rapid transit over two other options: enhancements to the 109 bus line, including increasing and improving bus service, or the creation of a light rail system.

Cost was the biggest factor in the board’s decision, said David Swallow, chief engineering and technology officer for the RTC. Compared to current 109 bus services, bus rapid transit will cost an estimated $200,000 more per year, whereas light rail would have cost an estimated $4.4 million more per year.

In total, bus rapid transit will cost $335 million in capital costs and $7.2 million in operating and maintenance costs.

Light rail would have been $750 million in capital costs and $11.5 million in operating and maintenance costs, while enhancements to the existing bus route would have been $29 million in capital costs and $6.8 million in operating and maintenance costs.

“Generally, the reality of the cost restraints was what led them to the decision they came to,” Swallow said.

While enhancing the existing bus route might have been the most affordable option, it would have produced the smallest benefits when it comes to anticipated increases in ridership, according to studies conducted by the RTC.

In addition, the RTC anticipates it can cover the added costs of bus rapid transit through federal grants, particularly a grant being sought from the Federal Transit Administration. The grant would not have been enough to cover all of the costs of light rail.

Other factors weighed by board members included the greater flexibility associated with bus rapid transit as compared to light rail, Swallow said. The system will be easier to upgrade with new technological advances and easier to expand to other parts of the Las Vegas Valley in years to come.

Nonetheless, the public seemed to favor light rail over the other options, based on the 1,002 comments submitted to the RTC during its monthlong comment period in February and early March.

“The commissioners acknowledged that, as they’re always wanting to be responsive to the public,” Swallow said.

Today’s vote sealed the RTC’s environmental impact assessment for the Maryland Parkway project, which the RTC can now submit to the Federal Transit Administration. The federal agency will issue a decision on the assessment sometime this summer.

“We anticipate a finding of ‘no significant impact’ based on the work we’ve done and in coordination with the Federal Transit Administration,” Swallow said. “And once we have that, we can close out the environmental phase and begin preliminary engineering.”

Engineering is expected to begin in early 2020, and construction could start as early as 2022, Swallow said. If all goes according to plan, rapid transit on Maryland Parkway will be up and running by the end of 2024.