As the environmental assessment of the Maryland Parkway bus rapid transit plan winds down, attention will turn to how to pay for the upgraded bus system.
The $345 million enhanced bus route option was chosen in April by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada over a possible light rail project that would have cost over $1 billion.
RTC officials are confident they can raise the money needed without additional taxes, though there is a chance an increase in the sales tax could be used for it and other transportation needs.
The local funding source for $230 million of the project has been identified — $125 million in fuel revenue index tax and $105 million from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program, according to David Swallow, senior director of engineering and technology for the RTC.
The remaining $115 million is expected to come from grants through the federal Transportation Administration’s New Start program. Those would be requested during two grant cycles, one in 2020 and 2021, with the decision on that money due in the spring of 2022.
Plans call for the construction to begin on the project at the end of 2022 and for completion of the project in 2024.
The RTC anticipates the Maryland Parkway project would be rated as a medium to medium-high priority by the federal government. The plan would compete against other transportation projects nationally, so there is no guarantee any federal funds will be awarded.
“I think in terms of funding, I think we have a highly competitive project,” Swallow said. “I don’t want to say we’re guaranteed, because nobody is guaranteed to get anything. But from our perspective, we look really strong right now.”
If the funding comes up short, more money could come from funding already earmarked for the project, Swallow said.
“What we’re trying to do is leverage as much federal investment as we can out of that,” Swallow said. “The New Start funds are competitive … so whatever we don’t get in new starts we’ll make up for with CMAQ funds.”
Brij Gulati, manager of engineering for the RTC, said if federal funding came in short, the RTC could proceed with a scaled-back version of the project or initiate a ballot question asking voters to raise the sales tax to support increased transit spending.
If it were approved, the money raised would go for more than just the Maryland Parkway project.
The RTC received authority during the 2017 legislative session to propose a ballot measure tied to increasing the sales tax. It got an extension until 2024 during this year’s legislative session.
“We’re assessing things right now and we’re not sure we want to go forward with a ballot measure,” Swallow said. “It’s really going to require some input from the community before we make a recommendation to our board to go forward.”
The enhanced bus system would cover an 8.7-mile route, stretching from Maryland Parkway near McCarran International Airport to the Bonneville Transit Center in Downtown Las Vegas and then on to the Las Vegas Medical District.
There would be 24 stops on the route at an average distance of ⅓ of a mile instead of the ¼ of a mile spacing seen now on Route 109, which covers the same route.
Ridership is projected to increase from 9,000 per day on the current Route 109 to 13,300 per day under bus rapid transit.
The average travel time is expected to decrease to 38 minutes with bus rapid transit, from 45 minutes on the existing route.
The project involves adjusting the roadway to include two general purpose travel lanes, a dedicated bus lane and a bike lane, located between the bus lane and the sidewalk, and building new bus stops.
“The construction will be essentially rehauling the entire corridor,” Gulati said at an RTC subcommittee meeting Wednesday. “It would be major construction.”
All things considered, Swallow likes the position the RTC is in as far as the Maryland Parkway project goes and said plans are to proceed as if all the funding will come through.
“Maryland Parkway is going forward as is,” he said. “There’s still some project development we still need to go through, but we have the funding that we need to go forward with Maryland Parkway.”