6. The Little Las Vegas Senator Who Could

We’ve heard it before. Every so often the past two decades or more, the notion of a Valley-wide light-rail system, including a fleet of clean, quick trains gliding up the Strip and over to the airport, stirs some initial debate. There’s maybe a hearing, vague promises for studies, a one-and-done newspaper story and then silence.

Meanwhile, taxis idle in the resort corridor, the air becomes more polluted, tourists grow more frustrated with the gridlock, and workers wonder if there’s a better way as they wait bumper to bumper each morning with record-high gasoline prices just around the corner.

If there’s one steady roller in the conversation, one person keeping it alive through good times and bad, it’s state Sen. Mike Schneider. For example, just when you thought light-rail was a dead issue, the Democrat from Las Vegas recently guided a bill through the Senate transportation committee to create the Southern Nevada Light Rail Authority. The bill must go through the Senate taxation committee, the full Senate and then move to the Assembly before reaching Gov. Sandoval’s desk.

Schneider failed to get a similar bill passed two years ago, but this time he’s confident that the “big gamers” can make a difference. Now he has the support of the Nevada Resort Association, which knows that the No. 1 reason Southern California tourists don’t drive to Las Vegas is the gridlock on the Strip and on Interstate 15. “Last session, they supported light-rail except for their four miles of the Strip. Well, if that’s out, why have a bill? Because those 40 million [annual visitors] don’t come to Vegas to see you and me.”

Schneider is aware of the not-in-my-backyard folks who apply the brakes early and often on such issues, and that the Regional Transportation Committee has made Bus Rapid Transit a priority over light-rail. “I understand Henderson and Clark County tried to do this before, and they just couldn’t take the heat of that. You had politicians with rubber spines, so now we’re going to do it from the state level and we’re going to say you have to do this.”

If passed, the authority’s representatives would include local municipalities, the RTC, the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Nevada Arts Council. (Why the Arts Council? Because, Schneider says, the light-rail system “should be a showpiece, a part of the entertainment of Las Vegas.”)

He also insists that the light-rail system should be all-electric, be fueled by a solar power plant in the Eldorado Valley and be “absolutely carbon-free.” He envisions the system eventually stretching to Boulder City, Primm, the planned Ivanpah airport and looping the Valley with Interstate 215.

“It’s a no-brainer” to pursue, even in this economic climate, Schneider says, pointing out success stories in Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix.

“We don’t have money to build roads anymore,” Schneider says, “and we don’t have the room to build more roads. … How wide can you make the Strip? Can’t make it any wider than it is now. How wide can you make the 215 to bring people to work on the Strip? You just can’t do any more. We need alternative ways to move people.”