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Sahara Express Bus project could boost economy in Summerlin

How’s this for a mouthful: “The Sahara Express Bus Rapid Transit Improvement project?”

Well, mouthful or not, it’s a development that is very much in the works, with an outlook that’s expected to bring positive results for the city, not only by way of improved public transportation but also as a stimulant for regenerating the local economy. In fact, when you boil it all down, the project could emerge as one of the more vital efforts in helping to free Las Vegas from its horrific economic downslide.

So how does it relate to Summerlin? A revitalized Sahara Avenue could become the road that reignites a master plan for Summerlin’s development, a plan that has fallen off a cliff in recent years due to the economic tailspin.

Sahara Avenue passes through commercial, retail and residential areas. Some sectors of it have become run-down over the years and would benefit immensely from some sprucing up.

Under the redevelopment plan, shoulder lanes along the corridor will be converted into bus-only lanes. Additional improvements will include facilities for greater passenger comfort, such as solar-powered transit stations, passenger shelters with upgraded lighting and shading, raised station platforms at bus-entry level and ticket vending machines.

Other amenities will include landscaping, wider sidewalks, new curbs and gutters, traffic signal upgrades and infrastructure improvements that could serve as a basis for the revitalization of some areas along the corridor.

The project, which is being administered by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, ultimately will streamline 12 miles of Sahara Avenue, a major cross town artery. And in case you haven’t noticed, work has already begun. Revitalization will stretch from Hualapai Way in Summerlin on the western edge to Boulder Highway on the eastern edge and is expected to be completed by late winter or early spring of 2012.

Implementation of the project was made possible thanks to a $34.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, under a program that in itself is another mouthful. It’s called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant program, or TIGER.

Tracy Bower, director of government affairs for the Transportation Commission, explained that the federal grant is being matched by $6 million of state sales tax revenue, a sum that was approved by the Legislature in its last session.

The TIGER grant is part of a $1.5 billion federal plan to fund 51 innovative transportation projects across the country. Closer to home, it’s part of an economic stimulant to help revive areas that need it the most. In that regard, Las Vegas certainly qualifies, as does Sahara Avenue, which is at the center of a metropolitan area that serves some of the heaviest population and employment areas in the valley.

The most immediate major benefit involves the employment of 500 construction workers. And that’s nothing to take lightly in a city where the unemployment picture already is beyond the critical stage. But that may be only a piddling number of job openings when compared to what fulfillment of the project could eventually produce.

“In many areas, public transportation projects like this can become major sparks for redevelopment and for new economic activity within the community,” Bower commented.

“Our first goal is to bring faster and more efficient rapid transit for the valley. People work in Las Vegas at all hours, and Sahara Avenue is a 24-hour-a-day route for bus transportation.”

What will it mean for Summerlin? In reality, it will bring more efficient public transportation to the southern sector of Summerlin, Bower explained.

One area of Summerlin that could benefit immediately would be the vast undeveloped parcel that once was destined to become the Shops at Summerlin Centre, and that may still be the case. The more than 100 acres lie to the south and east of Red Rock Resort. It’s a short distance from Hualapai Way, bordered by Sahara Avenue and the Las Vegas Beltway, and it has been sitting bare for almost three years, awaiting a change in the direction of the economy.

The Sahara Avenue project, which is close enough to that site and is in proximity to other undeveloped sectors of Summerlin, could be just the stimulant that’s needed.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He is the author of the novels “Falling Dominoes” and “One At A Time.” Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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