Fixed transit plan debated

Sen. Mike Schneider berated casino owners Thursday for trying to change a bill he introduced that would require Southern Nevada governments to establish a fixed transit corridor.

During a meeting of the Committee on Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation, Schneider, D-Las Vegas, also disclosed that he owns 5.1 acres of undeveloped property within close proximity to the proposed transit corridor.

Schneider seemed to dismiss any ethical concerns about a conflict of interest. He said he bought the property years ago and added he plans on turning it into senior housing.

Senate Bill 115 calls for Clark County, Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas and the state Department of Transportation to work together to acquire a right of way to establish a fixed-route transit corridor, a dedicated lane for a bus system or light rail, that would stretch 33 miles from Nevada State College in Henderson to the future North Las Vegas campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The bill states the corridor would be exclusively for public transit.

The bill calls for the corridor to follow the same route as a proposed fixed transit line that received strong public opposition in the southern valley several years ago. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada responded to that opposition by changing the route to appease angry residents and ordered that bus service be used, not light rail.

If passed, this bill would override that order.

During the committee hearing, Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Greg Ferraro offered an amendment that would eliminate the possibility of the transit corridor going up Las Vegas Boulevard between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road. The amendment received support from Harrah’s, Boyd and MGM/Mirage lobbyists.

Schneider did not react well to the amendment.

He described the casinos as corporate sycophants led by executives “who don’t live in Las Vegas,” yet who are “dictating policy on the Strip.”

Schneider referred directly to Harrah’s chief Gary Loveman and former MGM/Mirage CEO Terry Lanni.

“They were all geniuses two years ago and now they are all like Detroit,” Schneider said.

Michael Mathis, vice president and general council for Echelon Resorts, owned by Boyd, said having a fixed transit corridor on the Strip probably would force the removal of the “aesthetically pleasing and iconic” palm tree-filled median that partly lines the road. Removing the vegetation would “harm the image” of the Strip and “further urbanize it.”

Mathis added that a fixed route line probably would encourage pedestrians to move from the sidewalks to the center of the road, further congesting traffic.

Schneider said a light rail system would benefit the whole community, putting people to work while reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have to show some courage. We have to do something different. Building more lanes is not the solution.”

Building a light rail system probably would cost a lot up front, but “in the long run, it saves all of us dollars and time sitting in traffic,” he said.

Transportation Commission general manager Jacob Snow also testified about public transit, and the pros and cons of a light rail system. The pros include popularity, avoiding surface congestion and speed.

On the down side, routes are inflexible, there are high capital and operating costs, and construction can be “long and difficult.” Buses are generally cheaper and more flexible, Snow said, but buses have a negative image.

The bill has garnered support from North Las Vegas government officials and the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. A Las Vegas official said the city is a “strong proponent” of the bill but is concerned about the cost of obtaining right of way during the recession.

Clark County was generally supportive of “public transit,” but also expressed concern about the cost of right of way.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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