Light rail vs. rapid bus: RTC taking input on Maryland Parkway Project

light rail rendering
RTC rendering of a proposed light rail running along Maryland Parkway, from the airport to downtown Las Vegas and the medical district.
light rail rendering
RTC rendering of a proposed light rail running along Maryland Parkway, from the airport to downtown Las Vegas and the medical district.

Just under two weeks remain for the public to weigh in on proposals for a high-capacity transit project along Maryland Parkway.

The project could bring a long discussed but never realized light rail connecting McCarran International Airport to Downtown Las Vegas. But two less flashy options are also on the table. One is a proposal to build what’s called a “bus rapid transit” route, which would include a dedicated lane for buses, similar to what exists along part of Sahara Avenue. The least expensive option calls for simply enhancing the existing bus route, Route 109, without any major infrastructure changes.

Maryland Pwky Project
The proposed route for the Maryland Parkway Project.

Capital costs for the light rail proposal are estimated at $750 million; capital costs for the bus rapid transit proposal are $335 million. Enhancing the existing route would cost $29 million.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is currently accepting public comments related to the project, which is expected to involve federal and local dollars. Comments are being accepted via scheduled town halls and open houses, as well as online, through March 7.

Several rounds of community engagement efforts have already taken place, but local officials are stressing that this will be the last time the public can weigh in before it goes before the RTC board. That could happen as soon as April.

All three transportation proposals are intended to connect key parts of the central part of the valley and improve public transportation service along Maryland Parkway, from Russell Road near the airport to Downtown Las Vegas, and through the medical district near Charleston Boulevard, just west of the I-15.

Route 109 generates the eighth highest ridership of all existing bus routes and the second highest ridership of all north-south routes, according to the RTC. The route sees approximately 9,000 transit riders daily.

In wonky transit talk, the route produces “the highest productivity in terms of passengers per service-hour and per mile, after the Las Vegas Strip routes.”

In layman’s terms: A whole lot of people use that route.

According to the RTC environmental impact report: “Route 109 is oriented toward residents, employees, and students with time-sensitive trip needs; disabled persons and persons in wheelchairs who use the transit system to access various medical facilities in the corridor; and employees making critical connections to the east-west routes going to/from the major employment centers along the resort corridor.”

Approximately 32 percent of all households in the corridor have no vehicle available to them.

At the same time, stretches of Maryland Parkway see copious amounts of vehicular traffic, both from residents living along the corridor and those passing through it. Average daily traffic levels reach 35,000 to 40,000 vehicles at several major intersections along the parkway. In public comments already on the record, many residents have expressed concern about the effect losing travel lanes will have on drivers.

The RTC held the first of three presentations and Q&A session earlier this week. The remaining two will take place next week: The first from 4 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Historic Fifth Street School; the second from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 at Cambridge Community Center.

More information about the Maryland Parkway Project can be found here.

April Corbin
Reporter | April Corbin is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. Most recently she covered local government for Las Vegas Sun. She has also been a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of its student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April serves as treasurer of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter and is an at-large member of the Asian American Journalists Association. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise. She lives with her boyfriend, his toddler, three mutts and five chickens. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, exploring Nevada and defending selfies.

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