Clark County commissioners took a wise step last week when they agreed to contribute funding to expand the Las Vegas Monorail.
Now, it’s time to take an even bigger step — adding a light rail system connecting the Strip to McCarran International Airport.
The monorail expansion is terrific, as it will link together most of city’s largest convention centers and give many visitors a convenient and inexpensive way to get around.
But even when connected to Mandalay Bay, as the expansion will accomplish, it’s an incomplete solution to the Strip’s horrific traffic problem.
For most of its length, the monorail will serve mainly the properties on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard, and not all of them at that.
Visitors staying on the west side of the street, with the exception of Mandalay Bay, will still face long walks to reach a monorail station once the expansion is completed.
Plus — and this is a big plus — there’s still no convenient way for visitors to travel between McCarran and the Strip.
Enter light rail.
A system running from McCarran to Las Vegas Boulevard and then north to Sahara Avenue (and someday beyond to downtown and North Las Vegas) would give travelers an easy way to get to their hotel rooms. Once there, it would also provide them with a cheap and fast ride to wherever they wanted to go on the Strip.
The construction cost would be at least $600 million, but this is an investment the community needs to make. Light rail isn’t a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity if we want Las Vegas to continue to grow and remain one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
We have to face the fact that our traffic problem is diminishing our visitor experience. Crawling along in a taxi or a rideshare vehicle between the airport and the tourist corridor and paying out the nose for it is no fun, nor is getting back in a car for another bumper-to-bumper ride after checking into a hotel.
Other cities figured this out a long time ago and invested in light rail systems — including Denver, Orlando and Phoenix, just to name a few places that compete with Las Vegas for tourists and convention business.
Here, light rail is not just a need, but an urgent one. With the Raiders coming in 2020 and the Vegas Golden Knights already here, our traffic problem is on the verge of going from bad to catastrophic. And even if the Raiders weren’t in the equation, our steady rise in tourism traffic would worsen congestion on the Strip. The fact that McCarran drew a record number in passengers last month despite the Oct. 1 shooting says a lot about where visitation is going.
So the clock is ticking. The longer we wait to start construction, the more it will cost and the worse the visitor experience will erode.
To her credit, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has offered a proposal to break up the congestion by restricting traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard to public transit vehicles, taxis and rideshare cars. But while that’s a well-intended idea, it would be a Band-Aid at best and could also frustrate tourists who want to enjoy the thrill of driving their own car down the Strip. It would also present an enforcement challenge.
The solution to reducing the number of cars on the street is light rail. Sure, not every tourist would opt for rail over a car, but there’s no question that many would. That’s especially the case for the millennials the city is working hard to attract, as an uncommonly high percentage of them don’t drive.
Built today, light rail would become part of a mix of next-generation transportation options that are likely to eventually include fleets of autonomous vehicles that are available to travelers on an on-demand or subscription basis, which also could reduce congestion.
We can’t keep putting this off, or taking partial steps like the monorail expansion. Las Vegas needs to make 2018 the year when we finally hit the ignition button on light rail.