RTC to consider $750M light-rail line near Las Vegas airport, UNLV

First of a three-part series.

Good luck boarding the bus on Maryland Parkway.

Seats get snatched up pretty quickly during the weekday commutes along Route 109, running between McCarran International Airport and the Bonneville Transit Center in downtown Las Vegas.

A couple of miles into the ride, the standing group of riders resembles a pack of sardines squeezed into a metal container hurtling down one of the region’s busiest corridors.

“The bus usually gets so crowded, I can hardly move,” said Dave Mueller, who has boarded Route 109 every day over the past three years to get to his job as an adult caretaker.

“Even if there’s another bus right behind, they’re still jammed,” Mueller, 43, said. “If there was a better way, I’d take it.”

A solution could be identified in September, when the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada will consider whether to build a $750 million light-rail line that would primarily run along Maryland Parkway starting by 2025.

This month, an RTC advisory committee made up of 36 local business, tourism and union leaders recommended moving forward with the light-rail plan.

Less costly options under consideration include a set of bus rapid transit lanes that could cost up to $335 million and starting by 2024, or a $29 million improvement project by 2020 for the east valley roadway, where more than 9,000 bus riders and 35,000 vehicles travel daily.

Opening day projections for a light-rail line with 24 proposed stops stand at 16,100 riders, while forecasts for a bus rapid transit line stand at 13,300 passengers, RTC officials said.

“The success of Maryland Parkway will literally set the tone for anything we do over the next generation here in Southern Nevada,” Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who serves as the RTC’s chairman, said during the transit agency’s board meeting held in April.

Choosing Maryland

The RTC has spent several years devising a high-capacity transit plan for the Las Vegas Valley, a rapidly growing region that continues to heavily rely on vehicles.

A trip on the proposed light-rail line would last 32 minutes end-to-end on an 8.7-mile route that would start at the airport and travel past UNLV, Sunrise Hospital and Boulevard Mall along Maryland Parkway, cutting west on Carson Avenue through downtown Las Vegas.

From there, the route would head south on Casino Center Boulevard, near the Golden Nugget hotel-casino, to the Bonneville Transit Center, where it would veer west to go past the county administrative center, Las Vegas North Premium Outlets and on to a terminus at the future site of UNLV’s School of Medicine.

Commuters currently using the Route 109 bus expressed mixed reactions to the RTC’s plan for a light-rail line at a cost of more than $86.2 million per mile.

“I don’t think the city is big enough, there aren’t enough people living here,” Kiko Tauiliili, 39, said while waiting for a bus recently at Maryland and Flamingo Road. “I think that money should be spent on other parts of the city and improve the bus service we have right now.”

Other frequent bus riders, like part-time security officer Michael Perkins, said he supported a light-rail line on Maryland because it’s time for Las Vegas to “start looking like a big city.”

“It’s not a little desert city in a big, flat valley anymore,” Perkins said. “It’s a big city, and the buses are full all the time.”

Maryland Parkway came into focus as an ideal corridor in 2014 because of the heavy use along Route 109, which serves the most bus riders per mile outside of the Strip while also intersecting with 25 other bus lines.

Maryland Parkway light rail design rendering Las Vegas Review-Journal

Developers also view Maryland as a corridor that’s ripe for economic growth, with high-density residential and commercial projects that could potentially serve the university, mall and hospital.

“If light rail is successful along Maryland, the transit mode could potentially evolve into a network serving the entire region,” said David Swallow, the RTC’s senior director of engineering and technology.

“Maryland Parkway really is the connector of the valley,” Swallow said. “It stitches together our overall network.”

Landing at the airport

Soon, the Federal Transit Administration is expected to release environmental assessments that would allow the RTC to decide whether a light-rail line would fit in with Las Vegas.

From there, the RTC would gauge interest during a 30-day public comment period leading up to a decision by the transit agency’s board of directors in September.

If a light-rail line is approved, the RTC would need to start tracking down funding sources to pay for the project — likely through a mix of federal funds, fares and sales taxes.

Engineering and design for the project also would move ahead to shore up details for the route.

A challenge facing RTC officials is where to build a high-capacity transit stop for airline passengers looking for a convenient ride between McCarran International Airport and downtown Las Vegas.

One thing is guaranteed: Don’t expect the light-rail line to drop off riders directly outside the airport terminals.

“Future off-airport options will need to connect to a multimodal transportation center from which travelers could then connect on to or from the terminals,” airport spokesman Chris Jones said.

“There isn’t adequate space to accommodate multiple uses any other way,” Jones said. “The multimodal transportation center would be designed to accommodate more than one option.”

Potential sites for that multimodal transportation center will likely be included in an evaluation by Las Vegas-based engineering consultant GCW, which was recently hired to examine existing roadways and traffic conditions at the nation’s eighth-busiest airport, Jones said.

One spot long eyed by local transit officials is a chunk of airport-owned land known as the “tear drop,” given its odd shape nestled between Paradise Road, Swenson Street, Janis Lane and Kitty Hawk Way. Though the site is an option, GCW’s study could identify additional locations for a transit stop.

Jason Blackburn, an east valley resident who rides the Route 109 bus directly to his job at the airport’s car-rental complex, said he was skeptical of the plan.

A multimodal center, he said, would lengthen the commute Blackburn has taken since 2009.

“After taking the light rail to the end of the line at the airport, I would have to take another shuttle to the car rental center,” Blackburn said. “That would take more time.”

Evolving technology

By the end of this year, the RTC will release its so-called “On Board” study, which will examine how evolving technologies might help to improve access and capacity on some of Southern Nevada’s busiest corridors over the next 20 years.

For example, the proposed Maryland light-rail line might not require the use of overhead electrical lines — known as catenary wires — traditionally used by older models. Instead, the Las Vegas line could potentially operate with battery-operated vehicles similar to sections of Detroit’s light rail, along with a route under consideration in Seattle.

Although catenary wires will be listed as a “potential visual impact” in the RTC’s pending environmental assessment, officials said they won’t likely appear on Maryland Parkway. While battery-operated vehicles cost more to purchase, other transit agencies have reported reduced costs for infrastructure installation.

“Realistically, technology is developing in such a way that if we were to go forward with a rail option, then we would not have the overhead contact system,” said Swallow, the RTC’s engineering chief.

Additionally, the light-rail trains or bus rapid transit would share curbside lanes with vehicles traveling on Maryland, rather than running down a designated centerline strip as seen in most other cities.

The move, Swallow said, is aimed at preserving the current traffic capacity and allowing vehicles to turn left into existing commercial centers, all while introducing upgrades to the regional transit system.

The aesthetics don’t matter to Ronald Samy, who has frequently boarded the Route 109 bus since moving from India to the east valley a few months ago.

“There’s something about trains that people really like, so I would probably ride it more often than the bus,” Samy, 36, said at the Maryland-Flamingo stop. “It would also be better for people traveling to work because it would be faster and hopefully give us a little more room.”

Coming Monday: How to pay for a light-rail line.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Find @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Winter storm blankets west side of Las Vegas Valley
On Wednesday evening through early Thursday a winter storm dumped more than 7 1/2 inches of snow on some parts of the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas snow day for children
Las Vegas kids play in the snow that fell on Feb. 21, 2019. (Belinda Englman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow closes Red Rock Canyon, residents enjoy rare snowfall
The greater Las Vegas area was hit with snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2019. This video shows the areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin community. Video by: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas kids attend school in the snow
Las Vegas children attend school during a rare snowstorm on Feb. 21, 2019. Staton Elementary School and other CCSD schools remained open. (Glenn Cook/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People enjoying the snow in Summerlin
Fox Hill Park in Summerlin was busy Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019, with people enjoying the rare snow that fell overnight. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP advises motorists to take caution during Las Vegas snowstorm
NHP advised motorists to take caution during the snowstorm in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Timelapse of snow at Red Rock Canyon
More than 7 inches of snow fell in the western areas of the Las Vegas Valley, including Red Rock Canyon, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow falls at Fremont Street Experince in Las Vegas
Snow falls at the Fremont Street Experience early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 in Las Vegas. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Summerlin
Snow in Summerlin on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Anastasia Hendrix/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Snow At Red Rock Casino
Early morning snow in Summerlin on Thursday, feb. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Northwest Las Vegas sees heavy snow fall
Drivers on the 215 Beltway in northwest Las Vegas faced heavy snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow at Red Rock Casino and Resort.
Snow continues to fall Thursday morning in Summerlin. Heaviest snow west of 215.
Snow soccer in Las Vegas -VIDEO
Players enjoy a game of soccer during a snowstorm in the Anthem area east of Las Vegas on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow falls Wednesday evening in Las Vegas
Heavy snow began falling Wednesday evening in the southwestern part of the Las Vegas valley. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Snow falls on the Las Vegas Strip
Snow falls outside the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip as the Golden Knights play the Boston Bruins. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow near Deer Springs and Buffalo
Snow near Deer Springs Way and Buffalo Drive in the northwest Las Vegas Valley on Feb. 20, 2019.(Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Las Vegas at Red Rock Casino Resort
A winter storm brings snow to Red Rock Casino Resort in Summerlin on Feb. 20, 2019. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February 20 snow in Centennial Hills (Part 2)
Snowstorm in the far northwest valley. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February 20 snow in Centennial Hills
Snowstorm in the far northwest valley. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NDOT prepares for snow and ice from winter storm
The Nevada Department of Transportation gears up to keep roads open when snow and ice hit the Las Vegas valley.
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working cats at St. John the Baptist Church
Parish councilmember John Koutsulis talks about the two cats St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church have adopted as part of a working cats program.
Lee Canyon snow makes skiers smile
Skiers and snow boarders took advantage of the Presidents Day holiday and the recent snowfall at Lee Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston gets fresh blanket of snow
A winter storm drops nearly four inches of fresh snow on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at Mount Charleston outside Las Vegas. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in the Las Vegas Valley
Snow accumulated in the Las Vegas Valley for the first time in more than a decade, with snow falling mostly in the western, northwestern and southern areas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal) @bizutesfaye
Snow at US 95 and Lee Canyon Road
Passers-by pulled off Lee Canyon Road northwest of Las Vegas Monday to play in the fresh snow. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Road truck on an empty I-15
Snow and ice contributed to the closure of Interstate 15 near Primm. Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal
I-15 traffic diverted at St. Rose Parkway
The Nevada Highway Patrol has closed Interstate 15 in both directions between south Las Vegas and the California state line due to icy road conditions, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ice on roadway shuts down I-15 south of Las Vegas
An overnight snowstorm left an icy roadway, causing the Nevada Highway Patrol to shut down Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas to the California state line. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 closed at St. Rose Parkway
Ice on Interstate 15 caused the Nevada Highway Patrol to close the highway from St. Rose Parkway in south Las Vegas to the California state line on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing