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Vegas-to-LA rail project lands $3B in federal funds

Updated December 5, 2023 - 2:52 pm

Brightline West has been awarded $3 billion in federal funds to go toward its planned $12 billion Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles high-speed rail system.

It is expected that President Joe Biden will make an official announcement about the grant award Friday in Las Vegas. Congress has been notified of the grant award, a source told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Tuesday morning. Congress is required to be notified 72 hours ahead of an official grant announcement and the White House has already confirmed Biden is scheduled to be in Las Vegas on Friday.

“We’re honored and humbled in the confidence President Biden, (Transportation) Secretary (Pete) Buttigieg, Sen. (Jacky) Rosen and so many others have placed in Brightline’s vision to bring true high-speed rail to America,” Wes Edens, founder and chairman of Brightline, said in a statement. “This is a historic moment that will serve as a foundation for a new industry, and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country. We’re ready to get to work to bring our vision of American made, American built, world class, state-of-the-art high speed train travel to America.”

Rosen confirmed the grant award in a news release Tuesday morning, noting that she had been heavily advocating for the funding. Her efforts included sending a letter in August to the U.S. Department of Transportation pushing for the awarding of the grant funds.

“This historic high-speed rail project will be a game changer for Nevada’s tourism economy and transportation,” Rosen said in a statement. “It’ll bring more visitors to our state, reduce traffic on the I-15, create thousands of good paying jobs, and decrease carbon emissions, all while relying on local union labor.”

Funds part of infrastructure bill

Brightline and the Nevada Department of Transportation applied for the funds from $3.75 billion available from the Federal-State Partnership Program. Those grant funds are part of the U.S. infrastructure bill.

The remaining cost on the project would be paid by tax-exempt private activity bond allocations from Nevada and California and private capital.

The significant grant award pushes the high-speed rail project closer to fruition than it’s been in the nearly 20 years since the idea was first developed.

The concept was originally presented in 2005 as a train system to run between Las Vegas and Victorville, California, under the name DesertXpress. After a few name changes over the years, in 2018 Brightline West, through its parent company Fortress Investment Group, acquired the rights to the system and added a planned station in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

That opened a connection to California’s Metrolink rail system and access into and out of downtown Los Angeles.

The 218-mile trip between the planned Las Vegas station and downtown L.A. would take 2 hours, 40 minutes, according to Brightline.

Plans also call for stations in Hesperia and Apple Valley, California.

Huge win for economy, tourism

MGM Resorts International President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle heralded the grant award as a huge win for the Las Vegas economy and tourism industry. He said the rail system should alleviate some of the traffic congestion seen on Interstate 15 near the Nevada-California border during holidays and busy weekends.

“High-speed rail between Southern California and Las Vegas will play an important role in overall efforts to improve travel along the resort corridor,” Hornbuckle said in a statement. “This project will not only help alleviate bottlenecks and delays along I-15, but also open Las Vegas to an even wider group of visitors looking to enjoy all we have to offer.”

The environmental and permitting process for the entire rail line is completed and Brightline this year signed deals with Nevada and California building trade groups and rail unions to ensure the system is built and operated via union labor.

Brightline this week began adding fencing with advertisements along its proposed Las Vegas station, located on Las Vegas Boulevard between Warm Springs and Blue Diamond roads. There, the company plans to build a 273,000-square-foot station on 33 of 110 acres it has under the company’s control. The station is scheduled to be two stories tall and feature a seven-story parking garage.

Albeit subtle, Brightline marking its first branding opportunities on the site has Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft excited at what’s to come.

“The new signage showcasing the high speed rail project is an exciting visual of what’s to come,” Naft said. “I cannot wait for the high-paying union jobs and efficient transportation alternative that we have been working towards for years to finally come to fruition. Each milestone in the process is notable and worthy of celebration.”

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

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