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Las Vegas seeks solutions to tourist traffic on Strip

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Las Vegas doesn't exactly have a work commute problem but the four-mile Strip often gets clogged with tourist traffic.

LAS VEGAS >> For a travel destination that offers helicopter tours and jaunts in rented luxury vehicles, getting from point A to point B in Las Vegas can nonetheless pose a challenge.

The Las Vegas Strip, a 4 mile, glittering corridor flanked by massive casino-resorts, can easily turn into a clog of cars, taxis and flocks of walking tourists depending on the day and convention in town that week.

And that’s only after a person reaches the Strip from the airport where they may have already waited in lengthy lines for a taxi, lines that have become notorious during events like the annual Consumer Electronics Show that attracts 160,000 attendees familiar with mass-transit or hailing a lift with a ride-sharing company.

Las Vegas leaders have aimed to fix that.

Think underground light-rail linking the airport to the Strip, or a monorail extension between the city’s convention centers or round-a-bout bridges for pedestrians.

All are ideas born from a single group of transit officials, tourism leaders, taxi owners, hoteliers, some of whom had never spoken before until Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter convened them two years ago and set up the ground rules: no being selfish.

"Right now, about 44 percent of our customers arrive by air," he said. And many of those arriving have become accustomed to being able to hop on mass transit from the airport to get where they need to go.

No idea was too far-fetched in the beginning, including one that didn’t make it past brainstorming: urban gondolas swinging tourists to stops on the Strip.

Of the ideas being considered now, some are quick fixes and others are longer-term solutions. They include freeway signage directing drivers to resorts and coordination so routine road work doesn’t happen during busy events. Another suggestion is connecting the monorail to Mandalay Bay and eventually extending it to a proposed high-speed rail station and eventually building a light-rail line, possibly underground, connected to the airport.

The prospect that just one person might not come to Vegas because of a lousy transportation experience, "scared the heck out of us," said Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

Las Vegas is in constant competition with other cities to attract conventions and tourists. In early 2014, it fought to keep the National Finals Rodeo from moving to Florida by offering more money.

Plus, the number of residents in the Las Vegas area is expected to grow by nearly 150,000 people in the next five years to 2.2 million, according to the California-based mapping company, and Las Vegas leaders expect even more. The transportation group expects 2.5 million people residents by 2025 and the number of visitors to increase by 25 percent, reaching 51 million.

"If those numbers are real, it’s going to be really ugly," Quigley said.

That’s where the transportation commission’s draft blueprint comes into play, looking at solutions for the next five, 10 and 20 years. A final report and funding recommendations are expected this fall.

The average travel time for drivers and carpoolers to get to work is 22 and 23 minutes, both below the national average, according to U.S. Census Bureau data researched by The Associated Press.

A car traveling 2 miles north from the Excalibur casino-hotel to the Venetian took 35 minutes and traveled an average of 3.5 miles per hour at 9:30 p.m. Saturday during Memorial Day weekend, according to the Regional Transportation Commission. The same distance took about 20-23 minutes the night before.

Mass transit travel times are higher, though, at nearly 58 minutes, about nine minutes more than the national average.

"It’s a large region that has only one real mode of transport," namely, cars and sometimes buses, said Robert Lang with Brookings Mountain West.

Las Vegas has rooms, convention space and airport seats to spare, but surface road congestion is its Achilles’ heel, he said.

There’s a monorail that stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center and several casino-hotels behind the east side of the Strip, but it doesn’t connect to the airport or other convention centers.

Lang said Las Vegas lags behind other destinations in making mass transit a priority.

The Denver area has light rail and lower mass transit times, at 47 minutes.

Orlando doesn’t have mass transit linking its airport, yet, but its transit commuting time is quicker than Las Vegas at nearly 51 minutes on average. It is also close to building a passenger rail route connecting the airport and the Orange County Convention Center to bridge the 14-mile distance between the two.

"If we bicker, if we divide, we won’t get it done," Lang said of the group of Las Vegas transportation leaders. "Then you could expect a lot of growth in the convention business in Orlando."

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