Convention authority backs private rail plan

Las Vegas boosters can’t say whether economic recovery is three months or three years away, but they want to make sure roads and rails are ready for visitors whenever they return.

On Tuesday the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved several transportation-related resolutions, including one in support of a high-speed train from Southern California to Las Vegas.

The vote in support of the proposed DesertXpress train from Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif., came on the same day Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also said he favored the proposal over a competing plan for a faster, more expensive train that rides on magnetic levitation rails.

“I’ll be most supportive of the one who brings it first,” said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. “We need to make it easier for our visitors to get here.”

The DesertXpress would be privately funded and has backers that include former Las Vegas casino owner Tony Marnell and political operative Sig Rogich.

It would cover about 180 miles at a speed of about 150 miles per hour.

The DesertXpress would cost $3.5 billion to $4 billion to build and could eventually support as many as 60 million riders annually, although even backers estimate it would generate just 10 million one-way trips in the first year.

“What he is seeing is that DesertXpress has made much more progress in the last couple years than (magnetic levitation) has made in 30,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. “He just wants to get it done.”

The resolution from the authority and endorsement from Reid won’t bring any money to the table, but it could help the project generate momentum.

One way Reid might help would be to push to have the proposed route designated as an official rail corridor.

“When you are a designated corridor of any type, whether it is by the administration or Congress, it receives a lot of attention,” said Las Vegas-based transportation consultant Tom Skancke.

The group wants to connect to a proposed $20 billion rail system in California that is yet to become reality. Voters there have approved bonds for the project, but the state has not provided any funds.

DesertXpress backers say even without the California rail connection the project would work with just the Victorville-to-Las Vegas portion but would benefit from a connection to Los Angeles and other major cities.

Backers of the magnetic levitation proposal are also competing for the space.

Richann Bender, executive director of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, appeared before the authority and asked for a chance to get a second resolution for that project.

“We are right now involved in an environmental impact statement, in the early phases,” Bender said.

Skancke, who has met with the DesertXpress backers, said that project could be ready for construction in as little as 18 months.

“I think they are beyond conceptual,” he said.

In addition to the rail resolution, the authority discussed road projects, including a vote to contribute funding to construct collector and distributor lanes that would shift some local traffic off Interstate 15 between Tropicana Avenue and Blue Diamond Road.

“You are basically getting the locals off I-15,” said Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich.

The project will begin later this year and cost $255 million to $275 million. It will cost the authority about $18.3 million annually to cover the bond payments.

It is the first of three phases of Interstate 15 improvements between Tropicana and Primm, although the authority isn’t obligated to contribute to the final two phases.

The authority approved a resolution in favor of a proposed addition to the Interstate Highway system between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Interstate 11 would essentially be an upgraded version of Highway 93.

Finally, the authority approved a resolution urging the federal government to upgrade an interchange on Interstate 15 at Devore, Calif.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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