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Chris Jones

California-to-Las Vegas Road Trips Getting Easier, Tourism Expert Says

14 January 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Leaving Las Vegas -- and getting here, too -- could soon become much easier, a highway traffic expert told local tourism leaders Tuesday.

Improvements to roadways linking the city with vital tourism markets in Southern California made good progress in 2003 and are poised for further development in years to come, Tom Skancke, a Las Vegas-based lobbyist, told members of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board.

"We've spent the last 10 years solving yesterday's problems today," Skancke said. "We're going to spend the next 10 years solving tomorrow's problems today."

Last year, events that ranged from California's gubernatorial recall election to that state's continuing fiscal crisis helped challenge the status of current or proposed highway projects planned to ease traffic concerns in and out of Las Vegas. Despite such obstacles, Skancke said, plenty was accomplished.

A third southbound travel lane between the California cities of Barstow and Victorville, which cost nearly $80 million, opened in December, more than eight months ahead of schedule. Skancke said that lane has already greatly improved travel on what was an outdated, two-lane roadway; a similar northbound lane is expected to open this fall.

Work also progressed on several other key projects, Skancke added, most notably the proposed $1.4 billion High Desert Corridor that could someday give drivers an alternate east-west route between Victorville and Palmdale.

Maintaining a smooth ground traffic flow to and from Southern California is vital to Las Vegas' tourism industry. Terry Jicinsky, the convention authority's senior vice president of marketing, said Tuesday about 14 million to 15 million local visitors each year drive here from areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, the Inland Empire and other surrounding communities.

Because California has pressing infrastructure concerns throughout the state, Skancke said Nevada's elected officials and private sector leaders must continue to keep I-15 at the forefront of the Golden State's priority list.

That goal will be accomplished by maintaining a dialogue between agencies from both states, and in some cases arranging for Nevada tax dollars to be spent on California roadways, provided those projects benefit residents of this state.

For example, Skancke said Nevada and California leaders have since 1990 secured more than $535 million for highway projects from Primm to Victorville. About $20 million of that money came from Nevada, with $80 million from the federal government. The remaining $435 million came from local government gasoline tax dollars, the state of California and San Bernardino County, he said.

"We are now competing (for budget dollars) with places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and other major metropolises throughout the state," Skancke said, citing cooperation from civic, state and federal officials from both California and Nevada.

Las Vegas Mayor and convention authority board member Oscar Goodman said he's recently noticed improvements to the roadways linking Las Vegas and Southern California. Still, he expressed concern that large trucks continue to slow traffic in Nevada by their frequent use of so-called "fast lanes" on the left-side of highways.

Goodman said California recently toughened its enforcement of rules requiring such vehicles, which Goodman described as hazardous, to stay in the right-hand lanes whenever possible. He asked Skancke why similar steps have not been taken in Nevada.

Skancke said a bill similar to California's law was introduced in the Nevada Legislature last year but was rejected by the state's leaders without a formal hearing. He hopes to push for the proposed legislation in Carson City next year.