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Chris Jones
 

McCarran Seeking to Ease Congestion

4 May 2005

Weeks removed from its busiest month on record and with further growth projected in the months and years to come, McCarran International Airport simply can't afford to rely on the status quo.

On Tuesday, local leaders took preliminary steps toward increasing the airport's ability to handle more travelers, including the approval of separate proposals that would expand the security checkpoints as well as upgrade the roadways leading to and from the Las Vegas Beltway. Advertisement

Leaders hopes to add one new security lane to the seven-lane A/B checkpoint, Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker said Tuesday.

"We're getting quite a push now when America West peaks in the daytime between 11 (a.m.) and noon," Walker said. "With the new schedule they've developed for June, it will be a problem in the evening too. ... Adding an eighth lane was the best solution."

The Marshall Rousso and Kids Korner retail shops would be closed to make room for the extra lane, Walker said. Walls, glass storefronts, heating and cooling systems and other utilities would also be relocated.

"We hate giving up any retail space, but we've got to have the capability of getting the passengers moved through the checkpoints," Walker said.

Walker said the Clark County Aviation Department will incur extra costs to buy out the remainder of the tenants' lease agreements, though exact figures were unavailable Tuesday.

The A/B concourses are McCarran's oldest, but plans call for a new pedestrian bridge that will allow the areas to handle more flights by Southwest Airlines, which is now based exclusively in the C concourse, as well as current A/B concourse user America West Airlines. Those airlines last year combined to carry approximately 40 percent of all McCarran passengers.

McCarran in August expanded its C- and D-gates security checkpoints, adding seven new lanes and approximately 19,000 square feet of queuing space above the first-floor baggage claim area.

In addition, the Transporta-tion Security Administration in February installed two explosive trace portals at the checkpoints to further bolster security measures at an area that screens approximately two-thirds of all airport travelers.

The Clark County Commission on Tuesday gave Walker permission to negotiate a design contract with Welles Pugsley Architects related to the proposed upgrade. He estimated the project will open by June, when America West plans to increase its service to seven existing markets and add new flights to and from Monterey, Calif.

The commission also approved a request to negotiate a deal with Louis Berger Group for feasibility planning and preliminary design of roadway alternatives in and out of McCarran.

Walker said the northbound lanes of the airport connector and tunnel have become increasingly congested and could present a larger problem to airport users unless changes occur.

"We're getting backups in both directions, coming into the tunnel in the morning ... and outbound for those trying to get around the big loop heading east on (Interstate) 215," Walker said. "The Regional Transportation Commission and public works are coming up with some improvements that will help the whole area, but it won't really solve all of the problems."

Walker said Louis Berger will evaluate a plan to add two new lanes in a now enclosed area that's located between the existing northbound and southbound tunnels.

"We always intended to use that center core for some transportation reason, so now we're going to take a look at putting two traffic lanes in there," Walker said.

Airport leaders said last week that March was McCarran's busiest month ever, with more than 3.9 million arriving and departing passengers, a 200,000 increase from July 2004's former record count.

Last year was also the airport's busiest 12-month period on record, with nearly 41.5 million passengers, and a document approved by the commission on Tuesday said local leaders expect McCarran will in the next 10 years exceed its ultimate capacity of 53 million passengers and 625,000 flight operations per year.

The county hopes to build a second major passenger airport in Ivanpah Valley on now-vacant land just east of Interstate 15 near the California-Nevada border.

Walker said it could open as soon as 2017.