Monorail to McCarran? Still too expensive, executive says

When Curtis Myles goes to a family barbecue this weekend, he’ll likely get this question from his dad before hellos are exchanged: “When is the monorail going to be extended to the airport?”

It’s now a standing joke for Myles, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail, which operates the elevated 3.9-mile system east of the Strip.

“It’s always one of the first things people ask me or any of the members of my team when they find out we work for the monorail,” Myles told about 30 people who gathered at the SLS Las Vegas for his keynote address Friday at Monorailex 2015, a two-day gathering of the International Monorail Association.

“Even my dad asks me about connecting to the airport every time I see him,” Myles said.

It’s not a surprising inquiry.

Thousands of people ask it all the time when they consider the future of the transportation system that first opened in 2004.

Myles told the gathering of monorail operators from around the world that as appealing as an extension of the line to McCarran International Airport sounds, it doesn’t make economic sense when the costs are penciled out.

Myles said the cost of an extension to Terminals 1 and 3 at McCarran is estimated at $500 million — more than the initial cost of the system when it was built. One reason for the high cost is that the system would have to be routed underground for a short distance because of height restrictions at the north end of the airport’s north-south runways.

A risky undertaking

With the annual cost of debt service, maintenance and personnel, the system would need ridership of about 10 million passengers a year, just under a quarter of the number of passengers served annually, to support it. While 42.9 million passengers flew in and out of McCarran last year, 30 percent of them are either connecting passengers or local residents that probably wouldn’t use the monorail.

Myles indicated it would be a risky financial undertaking to extend to the airport now, although the nonprofit company will continue to review it.

The extension that does make sense and what Myles calls the No. 1 expansion priority is extending the line south from the existing MGM Grand terminus to Mandalay Bay. Myles told association members that the line would add one mile to the system, a new station at Mandalay Bay, require two new trains and cost an estimated $100 million. Myles stressed that the extension is still in the proposal stage.

From the MGM, the track would go east along Tropicana Avenue, turn south on Koval Lane, west on Reno Avenue, south on Giles Street and west on Mandalay Bay Road across Las Vegas Boulevard to a station between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay properties. Myles noted that the extension would be the monorail’s first foray across the Strip.

Myles also said the company is in preliminary talks to add a new station near the Sands Expo and Convention Center. With the Mandalay extension and the new station, the system would connect the city’s major convention facilities — a big plus in servicing major conventions that use multiple trade show floor venues.

The Mandalay extension plan is expected to be a part of the unveiling of the Transportation Investment Business Plan next month by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. The transportation plan will culminate months of meetings by a group assembled by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter. The plan also is expected to be forwarded to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, which is studying multiple aspects of tourism infrastructure needs, including convention facilities, a new stadium and transportation and pedestrian amenities.

Thriving on Las Vegas’ uniqueness

Myles said the Las Vegas Monorail system works only because of the uniqueness of the city.

“Our system wouldn’t work anywhere else in the United States, not even along Times Square,” Myles said. “It works here because of the attributes that are around the system,” which include 26,000 hotel rooms, 110 restaurants, 43 nightlife locations, 36 shows, 171 retail outlets, three arenas or large-event venues and 4.4 million square feet of convention space.

The International Monorail Association, based in Switzerland, views monorail transportation as a viable mass transportation option because underground systems are expensive to build, monorails are no longer associated only with theme parks, they are high-tech, efficient, safe and reliable and mobility experts and city planners consider them a serious alternative to conventional rail systems.

New monorail systems are being developed in China and in Egypt, according to association president Carlos Banchik.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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