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Chris Jones

Commission Will Weigh McCarran Parking Plans

21 June 2005

Faced with strong existing demand that should soon worsen because of pending construction, the Clark County Commission today will consider a plan that would give outbound travelers and airport employees several new options when parking at McCarran International.

Local aviation leaders are seeking approval to design a four-level, 2,800-space parking garage above a ground-level parking lot adjacent to McCarran's existing Gold parking structure, Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker said Monday.

Tentatively known as the Copper Garage, the building would be used exclusively for airport employees' vehicles, thereby opening to the public hundreds of covered parking spots now reserved for workers at McCarran.

In addition, commissioners are also expected to consider two new uncovered parking lots north of the airport's primary terminals, one for employees and the other for the public.

Plans for a third parking lot also are in development, though that site is not on today's commission agenda, Walker added.

The proposed changes are necessary, Walker said, because McCarran stands to lose approximately 4,500 uncovered parking spaces at its economy parking lot along Russell Road when construction of the $1.6 billion Terminal 3 project gets under way, likely in mid-2008.

"We have to find not only replacement space for that, but we have to anticipate growth between now and the time Terminal 3 would open," Walker said.

Just four months ago, Walker told the commission his staff decided building another garage at McCarran was too expensive. On Monday he clarified that position, saying a new public garage was not worth the investment because it would require users to walk too a great distance to reach the terminal.

"The service level would be higher to shuttle" travelers, he said. Airport workers, however, can easily complete the longer walk.

The proposed public parking lot, west of Paradise Road and north of Kitty Hawk Way, is home to several rental car businesses. However, they're scheduled to relocate sometime next year when McCarran's consolidated car rental facility opens off of Gilespie Street on the south side of Las Vegas Beltway.

The employee lot is south of Tropicana between Paradise and Swenson Street. That site now includes vacant land, as well as a few structures that would be cleared to make room for new parking areas.

Though it does not factor into today's agenda item, the aviation department has also sent UNLV a required 12-month notice of its plan to take control of a paved lot the county owns on the north side of Tropicana between Paradise and Swenson.

That site, which is across from the Thomas & Mack Center, would become another economy parking area for McCarran patrons, Walker said.

The aviation department has no expected cost or time line for developing its new parking areas other than ensuring that they're open before work begins on Terminal 3, Walker said.

Christi Yates, who works at McCarran's Brighton Collectibles store, on Monday welcomed the idea of more employee parking.

"We could definitely use the easier access," said Yates, who began working at McCarran a month ago. "There are a lot of people who work at the airport, and it's getting harder" to find parking spaces quickly there.

McCarran last year handled nearly 41.5 million passengers, a 57-year record. Approximately 12 percent of them lived in or around the Las Vegas Valley, and it was that abundance of local vehicles that caused McCarran's garages to shut down over portions of 95 days last year when all 6,000 public garage spaces there were used.

Those closures, which were often unanticipated, forced travelers to divert their automobiles to the nearby Russell Road lot, a detour that typically requires a 15- to 25-minute wait for shuttles to carry people from the lot to the terminal.

Scores of travelers missed outbound flights because of parking delays, Walker previously told commissioners, while countless others complained about the unforeseen inconvenience.

Such problems are worsening. Local air traffic was up 6.1 percent through May of this year, which has created more parking demand at the nation's sixth-busiest passenger airport. And the historically busy summer travel season is just under way.

To that end, rates at McCarran's long-term parking garages increased from $10 to $12 per day on March 29, when economy lot parking fees were also decreased from $8 to $6 per day.

Those rate changes, Walker said, were to encourage more consumers to make the economy lot their first choice when parking at the airport rather than drive directly to the frequently overcrowded garages. The effectiveness of that plan won't be studied until next year.

McCarran's updated parking plans were developed by Walker Parking Consultants, a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based company whose past projects include garages at McCarran, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Atlantic City's Borgata hotel-casino. The company is not affiliated with Randall Walker.