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Las Vegas Monorail Has Few Lifelines After Losing Earmark Cash to Buses

2:21 PM EST on March 12, 2010

The beleaguered Las Vegas monorail, which filed for bankruptcy in January after repeatedly failing to meet ridership targets, lost a possible lifeline yesterday when the local metropolitan planning organization, known as RTC, said it would not aid the monorail for fear of diverting resources from its own bus expansion.

mono.jpgThe Las Vegas monorail on a test runs before its 2004 opening. (Photo: LVRJ)

From the Las Vegas Sun's report:

Since the monorail is a private company, it would need support fromthe commission to get federal transit funds, RTC General Manager JacobSnow told the commission’s board at its monthly meeting Thursday.

But supporting the monorail could create competition for funds the RTC uses for its own transit system, Snow said.

The board didn’t take any formal action, but Snow said the RTC staffrecommends the two organizations stay separate. Board members said theyagreed and would look into taking formal action if necessary.

The monorail project initially enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle in Nevada's congressional delegation, including now-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Its real death knell, however, may have come not in bankruptcy court but in the fine print of a December deal struck by lawmakers to apportion federal transport funds for 2010.

That bill included language asking the U.S. DOT to redirect unspent earmark money for the monorail, as well as for Las Vegas' proposed CATrail transit line and a potential transit hub in North Las Vegas, to the RTC's bus projects. In total, $10.3 million in unused earmarks were in line to shift to Las Vegas buses, according to a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimate compiled last fall.

That amount of freed-up funding for buses is nothing to sniff at -- but how big was the original monorail earmark? It's tough to say. The December bill that reprogrammed Las Vegas earmarks referred to "funds made available" for the monorail under one section of a large 2002 spending bill that added an extra $144 million in federal transportation grants, with no specific apportionment included.

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