Las Vegas Sun

February 17, 2019

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Future of Maryland Parkway: RTC seeks public input on transit options

Light rail

Regional Transportation Commission

A rendering of a proposed light rail system along Maryland Parkway.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is one step closer to finalizing the public transit future of Maryland Parkway.

Three enhanced public transportation options remain on the table for the Maryland Parkway corridor, which extends from McCarran International Airport to downtown Las Vegas: enhance the existing Route 109 bus service, develop a bus rapid-transit system along the corridor with dedicated bus lanes or create a light-rail system.

The RTC is in the process of gathering feedback from the public before moving forward with a particular option.

RTC Public Presentations

• Wednesday, Feb. 20, from 4 to 6 p.m., RTC administrative building, 600 S. Grand Central Parkway, Las Vegas

• Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 4 to 6 p.m., Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. 4th St., Las Vegas

• Thursday, Feb. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m., Cambridge Community Center, 3930 Cambridge St., Las Vegas

RTC Open Houses

• Friday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Boulevard Mall, 3528 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

• Tuesday, Feb. 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., UNLV Student Union, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

Residents can submit comments until March 7 on the proposed transit improvements and on an environmental impact assessment for the proposal, prepared by the RTC and recently approved by the Federal Transit Administration. The assessment is available on the RTC’s website.

In addition, the RTC will host five public presentations in February about the proposals.

Following the public comment period, the RTC board of commissioners will evaluate the comments received and move forward with the most popular of the three options this spring. At that time, the board’s decision will be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration, which will then issue an environmental decision.

“That decision, we anticipate, will be a finding of no significant [environmental] impact,” said David Swallow, senior director of engineering and technology at the RTC.

Community members can submit comments or questions on the project website, via email to [email protected], by fax at 702-676-1589 or by mail to: ATTN: Maryland Parkway transportation project, RTC of Southern Nevada, 600 S. Grand Central Parkway, Suite 350, Las Vegas, NV 89106.

Transit opportunities, costs vary

Click to enlarge photo

The three alternatives for the Maryland Parkway corridor would bring different anticipated changes in ridership and travel time for public transportation along Maryland Parkway. The options also differ significantly in cost.

Funding is fully available for the enhanced route option, Swallow said, and construction could begin in the next few years. Enhancements to the 109 route might include reducing the number of bus stops to increase travel efficiency, replacing bus shelters with new ones and increasing the frequency of bus service.

But average travel time would only go down from 45 to 44 minutes with that option, the RTC estimates, and ridership would only increase from 9,000 to 10,000 riders in the first year.

By comparison, a bus rapid-transit alternative would yield an average travel time of 38 minutes and an estimated ridership jump to 13,000 riders in the first year.

Light rail would reduce average travel times to 32 minutes and increase ridership to an estimated 16,100 in the first year.

To cover the full cost of light rail or bus rapid transit, the RTC would likely pursue a grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, which funds light rail, bus rapid transit and similar transportation systems with fixed lanes.

The grant, if obtained, would be enough to finish funding bus rapid transit construction, Swallow said, but not the full costs of the light rail option.

“There’s still a little bit of a gap there we’d need to make up,” Swallow said.

One possible additional funding source for the light rail option would be a sales tax hike that could be approved by ballot measure. If voters supported the sales tax hike, the RTC could use those funds for any number of transit expansions and enhancements, including along Maryland Parkway.

“We have not identified a specific amount we would like to increase or if we’re going to pursue that, but that is something that has been enabled legislatively that could be an option for projects like this,” Swallow said.

The RTC considers Maryland Parkway to be a priority for transit improvements because of the large amount of traffic, both vehicular and on the 109 bus route, that traverses the corridor every day.

In addition to connecting McCarran Airport to downtown, the long-anticipated improvements to the corridor would increase the transit accessibility of the Las Vegas medical district and connect UNLV’s two campuses to one another and to downtown.

“When we look at transit usage, high generators of transit use are typically airports, universities, malls, hospitals and downtown, and we have all of those elements on the proposed route for Maryland Parkway,” Swallow said.

The significance of the project is a big part of why the RTC hopes to gather as much feedback as possible.

“The most important part is we want to hear from the public,” he said.