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EDITORIAL: Light rail on Maryland Parkway a terrible idea

The Las Vegas Valley’s list of badly needed road improvement projects is longer than rush-hour backups at the Spaghetti Bowl. Especially now that the Clark County Commission has approved a fuel tax increase to fund some of those projects, the Regional Transportation Commission must put scarce road revenues to their most productive, efficient use possible.

Some of the ideas for Maryland Parkway upgrades would accomplish precisely the opposite.

Today and Wednesday, the RTC will hold its final workshops on improvements to Maryland between McCarran International Airport and downtown Las Vegas. Today’s open house runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Boulevard Mall’s center court; Wednesday’s meeting is at the Bonneville Transit Center downtown from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Public comments from these meetings will be included in the project study’s final recommendations.

The north-south road, which runs alongside UNLV, the Boulevard Mall and Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, is one of the four busiest routes in the valley. In addition to the tens of thousands of vehicles that travel Maryland every day, about 9,000 people ride the bus. Even the sidewalks are busy.

Depending on what the RTC decides to do, the Maryland project could cost between $60 million and $100 million. That’s a huge bill for a single surface street. By comparison, two Interstate 15 widening projects, one between U.S. Highway 95 and Craig Road and the other between Tropicana Avenue and Blue Diamond Road, cost less than $250 million apiece.

The Maryland price tag has such a high ceiling because one of the costliest, least efficient transit options is very much on the table: light rail.

Across the country, light rail lines of all lengths have cost far more than estimated, failed to cover operating costs and moved fewer riders than projected. And the more intersections the trains cross, the worse surrounding traffic is tied up. Denver’s planned light rail system might never be completed because costs have jumped nearly 60 percent, construction is years behind schedule and the public refuses to put additional money into the project.

Only a few years ago, the RTC board wisely rejected a light rail route that would have crossed the valley, from Henderson to North Las Vegas, because of the system’s lack of flexibility. That’s exactly why the public and the RTC should rule out light rail for Maryland Parkway. Light rail would consume too much of Maryland’s precious right of way and make it unusable for motor vehicles.

The RTC also will consider an equally inefficient option: reducing Maryland Parkway from six travel lanes to four to create two dedicated bus lanes. Going through the time, inconvenience and expense of eliminating vehicle lanes on one of the valley’s busiest roads would be a complete waste of resources. The RTC would be better off doing nothing at all.

This weak economy, this time of limited tax dollars, is no time for grand experiments in transit. Did we learn nothing from the monorail boondoggle? The public should give the RTC a clear message: Keep it simple on Maryland Parkway.

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