“Transportation is one of the highest priorities for the state as far as building industry, being productive and making things happen,”said Dawn Gibbons, chairwoman of the Nevada Transportation Authority (NTA).
Highlighting the state’s emphasis on transportation, an 18-month process is currently underway to develop the One Nevada Transportation Plan. It’s a collaboration between the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and numerous partners, including transportation providers and local governments. The plan’s goal is to envision and implement a “safe and connected multi-modal transportation system that links Nevadans and supports the state’s economic vitality,” according to NDOT. Completion of the first iteration is targeted for mid-2019, with updates occurring in subsequent years.
Even as state agencies look to long-term sustainability in transportation, the industry as a whole is undergoing growth and change. Airport passenger numbers are on the upswing, new flights are being added, transportation-for-hire is expanding and numerous road/highway projects are underway, for starters. Here’s a look at some of what’s new and taking place at the airports and state transportation agencies.
McCarran International Airport
At McCarran International Airport (MIA), passenger numbers have increased steadily since 2010, and last year was record setting. In nine months of 2017, the airport set record traveler totals, with October boasting the highest volume ever, in the airport’s nearly 70-year history (its anniversary will be in December). The year’s total was 48.5 million passengers.
“This new record is a clear sign of recovery, and it shows that the appeal of Las Vegas remains strong,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, which owns and operates MIA and four other airports.
These upward passenger trends continued in early 2018. For example, Customs and Border Protection reported a single-day record of 8,119 international arrivals on Jan. 8. Also that month, overall passenger traffic was up, by 2.7 percent, over the same time last year.
McCarran International Airport serves almost 30 airlines with non-stop service to over 150 destinations. By year-end, 15 flights, domestic and international, are slated to be added to the current roster. Among those are new weekly flights to Munich, Germany, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Edmonton, Canada, internationally, as well as additional flights to Florida, Nebraska and Texas, domestically.
Regarding international flights, the aviation department remains open to accommodating any country that wants non-stop service to and from Las Vegas.
“It’s very important to us,” Vassiliadis said. “We’re interested in the world, anyone who has the demand to come here.”
As for changes inside the airport itself, coming soon are new retail offerings, restaurants and a high-end airport lounge, the specifics of which currently are being finalized. Apart from what’s to come, MIA has completed infrastructure improvements to Terminal 1 that included new flooring, updated bathrooms, new check-in counters and a modernized look.
The new terrazzo flooring will soon be installed in areas that don’t yet have it, starting in Concourse A, thereby “continuing the modernized, brighter look and feel throughout the terminal,” Vassiliadis said.
The airport has also added digital signage and self-serve baggage-tagging kiosks, among other improvements. The renovation project cost $30 million to complete.
Simultaneously, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is finishing a $57 million refresh of the Terminal 1 in-line baggage screening systems. New passenger screening technology will also be introduced soon. The full details haven’t been announced yet.
“We are happy to partner with TSA to explore this new technology that has the potential to improve safety, security and customer service,” said Vassiliadis.
A few years ago, the airport launched a program to more seamlessly move people through the terminal and on to their destination. The program is called McCarran At Your Service or MAYS. The committee behind MAYS includes representatives from airport stakeholders including everyone from airlines, government partners to retailers and concessions at MIA. Their mission is to ensure that the first and last impression visitors have of Las Vegas is positive.
As for the other airports in the county’s system, work should begin this year on a terminal remodel at the North Las Vegas Airport and on additional ramp construction at the Henderson Executive Airport.
The Clark County Department of Aviation’s budget is $653.4 million for fiscal year 2017-2018. Revenue comes from airline and non-airline sources, about 50 percent from each.
In terms of MIA’s economic impact on Nevada, aviation generates $28.4 billion annually via direct, indirect and induced means, 2015 data showed. Visitors arriving by air generate $24.5 billion in output, 179,502 jobs and $6.8 billion in labor income each year.
For the rest of the year, growth is expected, Vassiliadis said. “There’s no doubt the demand is here.”
Reno-Tahoe International Airport
Now in its 90th year, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RTIA) achieved a major milestone in 2017 when its passenger count again surpassed 4 million, the first time since previously doing so in 2008. This number reflects a 10 percent increase from 2016 which, in part, was due to four flights being added in 2017.
“We’re in a growth mode right now and planning the facilities for the future,” said Marily Mora, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority (RTAA), the entity that owns RTIA. “We used to have 5 million passengers a year.”
The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority is in the last stage of developing a 20-year master plan, determining how to finance the future projects outlined therein. For one, potential funding could come from a hike in the Passenger Facility Charge, a fee of a maximum $4.50 that travelers pay per flight leg. Members of the federal Senate Appropriations Committee are working to raise it to $8.50 to help cover the cost of airport infrastructure improvements.
RTIA’s current total operating budget is $43.2 million for fiscal year 2017-2018. Thirty-two percent of revenue comes from the carriers, both passenger and cargo, in the form of landing fees and rents for ticket counter, office and operations space. The remaining 68 percent comes from non-airline sources, which is “pretty high,” Mora said, noting that 50 percent is more typical.
“We’re really proud of making more non-airline revenue because that means we can keep our rates and charges for airlines at a very modest level. It gives us the opportunity to keep the airlines here and to really try to attract new airline service,” said Mora.
The cargo business at the airport plays a role in that, Mora said. It shares in the costs, keeping down the rates for the passenger airlines, and supports the region’s burgeoning warehouse/distribution and logistics industries.
In 2017, about 152 million pounds of cargo passed through RTIA, which is a 2.7 percent drop from 2016, during which the total had risen 13 percent.
“Cargo had been steadily increasing month over month, if not year over year, for quite a while,” Mora said.
Most of the total air cargo, 98 percent, is transported on the dedicated carriers—FedEx, UPS and DHL. The rest is carried in the cargo hold of passenger planes.
Additional Frontier Airlines flights are coming online at RTIA this month: a fourth weekly flight to Denver, as of April 9, and twice-weekly service to Austin, as of April 10. As for international flights, RTAA is eyeing potential connectivity through the existing offering, to and from Guadalajara on Volaris, and possibly adding other destinations, Vancouver in particular. The authority has increased its ability to land additional international flights by obtaining $175,000 per year to support the salary of an additional customs officer for the Reno federal inspections services facility.
Before year’s end, the airport will introduce up to three new food vendors in the main lobby, in response to the public wanting more varied fresh and quick food options. This desire became known through the quarterly customer service surveys the authority conducts.
Also this year, RTAA will carry out a marketing program similar to its “Non-Stop Getaways from RNO”, in which it held drawings and, over 20 weeks’ time, gave away 20 trips for two, including airfare and hotel accommodations. The last such campaign yielded more than 80,000 entries.
“That was a real popular program and helped us build our database for the airport and for the airlines,” Mora said.
Additionally, the RTAA will launch another five-year strategic plan in July. Results of an economic impact study of RTIA, being done in partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno, should be released by year-end.
“We’re going to find that we will probably be over $2 billion annually in terms of our economic impact,” Mora said.
At the 5,000-acre, RTAA-owned Reno-Stead Airport (RSA), which turned 75 last year, work began in early March on revamping one of its two runways. This capital improvement project, for which a $21 million grant was obtained, is due to be completed by September, in time for the National Championship Air Races held there. Also, the RTAA expects some aviation-related companies to move into RSA in the future.
NASA’s drone testing continues at RSA, a test site for unmanned aircraft vehicles. The agency is developing protocols for integrating drones into the manned airspace and for unmanned traffic management.
Nevada Transportation Authority
This state agency is currently planning and developing regulations for the emergence of autonomous vehicle (AV) network companies; think an Uber-type business model and service but without drivers, said Gibbons.
“I think we’re going to be ahead of the country as far as [AVs] are concerned. The entire state will probably be one of the first to start letting this happen,” she added, noting that state legislation around these types of companies will come.
The Nevada Transportation Authority administers and enforces state laws pertaining to in-state passenger transportation, or transportation for hire—charter buses, limousines, taxicabs (outside of Clark County), network transportation companies (Uber, Lyft)—household goods movers and tow vehicles. Currently, more than 7,000 people hold NTA-issued permits for commercial passenger transport in the state.
“Our number one mission is to make sure the traveling public is safe,” Gibbons said. “We’re one of those agencies that nobody pays attention to but we’re doing a lot of work.”
In terms of the transportation network companies, or TNCs, along with Uber and Lyft, Nevada now has a third one called Tango Car, a 100-vehicle operation.
In about two and a half years’ time, since TNCs first were permitted in the Silver State, their cumulative driver count has grown about twenty-fold. The number hit 100,000 in February. “It’s been explosive really,” said Gibbons.
At McCarran International Airport, Vassiliadis said, transportation for hire hit a record in 2017, of 5.4 million pickups by taxis and TNCs. This reflects an 11.7 percent increase over 2016’s figure.
At Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Mora said, TNCs have supplemented the taxicab business rather than usurp or replace it. It is new customers that are using the TNCs.
Taxicab companies are continuing to replace their former meters with soft ones equipped with GPS and computer-based tracking, similar to what TNCs use. Now, customers can call a cab for a ride or download and use one of the apps to do so.
“[Taxis] have come around to be more user friendly to a different type of population,” Gibbons said. “This electronic method is much more efficient for the carriers and the passengers they serve.”
An ongoing challenge NTA and the passenger transportation industry face in the state is keeping up with the growing population, particularly in the north, and ensuring enough services and options are available for residents and visitors, Gibbons said.
Nevada Department of Transportation
NDOT will spend about $36 million this year on road/highway improvement projects, many of which are underway already and in different phases, said Director Rudy Malfabon.
The big one is Project Neon in Southern Nevada, which will widen 3.7 miles of Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the “Spaghetti Bowl” interchange in downtown Las Vegas. Work on the I-15 Mainline phase, in progress, is expected to be done around November. Then construction will begin on a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) flyover bridge between U.S. Highway 95 and I-15 at the “Spaghetti Bowl”. NDOT targets completion of Project Neon in mid-2019.
“That’s our most significant project to date for the department,” Malfabon said.
The agency aims to finish its portion of construction of Interstate 11 in the south, 2.5 miles of a four-lane, divided freeway from Railroad Pass to U.S. 95, by late summer/early fall 2018. This constitutes Phase 1 of the I-11 project. Phase 2, the Reno Transportation Commission’s concurrent building of 12.5 miles, is expected to be done subsequently.
Also underway is NDOT’s planning of the future path of the I-11 corridor, a roughly 450-mile-long interstate connecting the Las Vegas Valley and northwestern Nevada. Last month, the agency held public information meetings in Las Vegas, Tonopah, Hawthorne, Fallon, Reno and Carson City to disseminate information and gather feedback on it.
“I-11 is envisioned as a limited access, four-lane, divided interstate designed to safely accommodate future traffic needs,” Malfabon said.
Other work in progress includes building various system-to-system interchanges at:
- Clark County 215 Beltway and U.S. 95 (Centennial Bowl), in the bidding phase
- Clark County 215 Beltway and I-15 North, in the design phase
- Clark County 215 Beltway at Interstate 515, in Henderson, in the planning phase
- I-15 and Tropicana, in the public feedback phase
NDOT has received about $24 million to date, since July 1 of last year, in Fuel Revenue Indexing funds, which are generated in and only applied to road/highway projects, primarily construction, in Clark County.
In Northern Nevada, the department is developing an environmental impact statement concerning potential improvements to Reno’s “Spaghetti Bowl,” the interchange at Interstate 580 and U.S. 395. It hopes to complete that report by year-end.
NDOT is also studying alternatives for improving Interstate 80 through the canyon east of Reno-Sparks, which lies between mountains on one side and the Truckee River on the other.
The agency continues to implement its 2016 Nevada Freight Plan, which includes enhancing truck parking and adding truck passing lanes along the highways, particularly in rural Nevada. Up to $60 million in federal transportation funding has been appropriated for Nevada freight projects through 2020. The importance of highways/roads to the state’s logistics industry is “huge” and “very significant,” said Malfabon.
For the remainder of this year, the director said, the plan is to “wrap up a lot of those projects under construction, do a lot more safety improvements in Vegas and keep advancing that widening on 95.”
As Nevada is currently in a growth mode, agencies and transportation providers on both ends of the state are working hard to keep up. However, with solid plans in place moving forward and a clear vision of what each agency needs, the Silver State is in a good place with transportation. Moving people in and out of a state that relies heavily on tourism will remain a priority for transportation agencies.