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Southern Nevada’s second commercial airport likely 2 decades away

A long talked about second commercial airport in Southern Nevada could open to flights by 2040, airport officials said.

With McCarran International Airport on track this year to surpass 50 million passengers going through its gates, the 60 million passenger threshold that would spur an additional airport could be met in the not-too-distant future.

If the passenger rate continues to grow as it has over the past several years, and if studies regarding the land the airport would be built on come in favorably, the initial portion of the planned airport south of Las Vegas could be complete in about 15 years, according to Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation.

“If you put it on paper … and everything goes perfect, we could be opening the first phase of the airport, which is probably a more prudent way to go — I mean all these decisions are yet to be made — would be in the 2035 to 2038 time period,” Vassiliadis said. “That is very realistic. It’s very complicated to build an airport.”

The proposed airport in Ivanpah Valley would be built on 6,000 acres of undeveloped federal land along Interstate 15 between Jean and Primm, about 32 miles south of Las Vegas. The proposal was first considered in the early 2000s but was put on hold after the recession caused a drop in tourism.

The next step in the process took place last week when the county aviation department, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management entered into an agreement to allow for the environmental impact study.

Vassiliadis said the department could go back to the county commission in a few months to select consultants to carry out the study.

“That’s what really starts the process,” she said.

The study would take at least two years and cost $5 million to $7 million, Vassiliadis said.

The first work on the project would involve removing silt from the land where the airport would be constructed, which is the site of an old dry lake bed.

“Silt is not a good material to have any type of structure, let alone a runway on, so that would be the first phase of that project,” Vassiliadis said.

In the early 2000s when the study was initially approved, a conveyor belt system was approved to remove the silt. That process would be revisited to see if there was a more advanced way to carry it out, Vassiliadis said.

“We’re hoping that technology has improved greatly and that we have more alternatives from that system,” she said.

There are no weather concerns with possibly building an airport on a dry lake bed, as a drainage study conducted in the early 2000s is one of the only things that held over from the original study of Ivanpah.

The county’s population is expected to jump from 2.3 million in 2019 to 2.7 million by 2040, according to a UNLV study.

County Commissioner Michael Naft said getting the groundwork underway now is necessary for the county and the economy.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that we are well equipped to remain a world leader in tourism and hospitality,” Naft said. “Planning for the continued growth in visitation is critical, and doing so in a responsible manner that protects our natural environment is of the utmost importance.”

If the study supports the building of the airport in Ivanpah Valley, the federal government would likely give the county an additional 17,000 acres of surrounding land at no cost. The land could be used for industrial or commercial development, Vassiliadis said.

“It could include just about anything besides residential, schools and hospitals,” she said.

Though the possible opening of the airport is years away, Vassiliadis said now is the right time to get the process going again, given the area’s population surge, the increased passenger count and the pending opening of the Las Vegas stadium, Resorts World and the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion project.

“Knowing all of that and knowing the synergies that Southern Nevada has and knowing what’s coming on board … this is the time to start that,” she said. “To realistically build a second commercial airport.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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