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Benjamin Spillman

Officials want more new roads to airport

24 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A proposed commercial airport about 25 miles south of Las Vegas is expected to accommodate as many as 35 million Southern Nevada visitors annually.

But getting them to the resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard from the now-remote airport site in the Ivanpah Valley is another story.

When traffic is light, the proposed airport site along Interstate 15 between Jean and Primm is about 30 minutes by car from Tropicana Avenue, the closest major intersection on the Strip.

But by 2017, the year the airport is scheduled to open for business, the notion of light traffic on the main freeway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles will be as quaint as dropping a quarter in a slot machine.

That's why Nevada's transportation managers are so concerned about plans to move visitors between Las Vegas and the new airport without creating more congestion on roads that are already reaching their limits.

On Wednesday, Clark County Department of Aviation officials explained their plans for new roads to and from the airport for a subcommittee of state legislators compiling a statewide report on transportation.

In short, the Aviation Department plans to spend about $200 million on new roads and mass transportation rights-of-way to ensure tourists spend more time losing money in casinos and less time sitting in traffic.

The highlight of the plan is a four-lane road that would depart I-15 near Sloan Road and lead directly into the new airport with no cross streets or interchanges.

"Once you get onto that roadway, you can't get off," said Rosemary Vassiliadis, deputy director for the Clark County Department of Aviation. "It drops you right into ... the racetrack system in front of the terminal."

Funding for the new roads, part of the $7 billion airport project, would come from fees attached to passengers' airfares. McCarran International Airport would continue to host most commercial airline traffic to and from Las Vegas, Ivanpah would accommodate international and long-haul domestic flights.

In addition to the dedicated airport road to Ivanpah, called the Las Vegas Boulevard South Super Arterial, Clark County aviation officials are planning two other road upgrades.

One is the Las Vegas Boulevard South bypass. It is designed mainly for locals driving between Goodsprings and Sandy Valley and Las Vegas who want to avoid the airport. The bypass would be two lanes in each direction and would connect to Goodsprings Road.

The third proposal is an interchange that connects the airport and I-15.

The proposed airport isn't the only change transportation planners are facing when it comes to I-15 between Las Vegas and the California border.

"We have challenges on that corridor," said Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation.

One challenge is the increase of trucks moving goods from Southern California seaports to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and beyond.

"Even without that airport the freight movement ... will double in the next 10 years," Martinovich said.

There are plans to widen the freeway beginning as early as 2009. Eventually, some segments of I-15 between the Las Vegas Beltway and the California border will have as many as 14 lanes, she said.

Other proposals for the corridor include suggestions for light rail, specialized buses and even a high-speed train that could go as fast as 300 miles per hour.

"We intend to push the envelope in that corridor using every mode of transportation we can," Martinovich said.

The meeting Wednesday was third in a series of five to gather information about the state transportation system for legislators to consider during the 2009 session.