As Vegas Travel Grows, Airport and Roadways May Face Challenges

The nation's sixth-busiest airport is already nearing its ultimate capacity of 53 million annual passengers, a limit imposed by a runway system that cannot be expanded because of nearby development.

Each hotel room added produces 320 additional air passengers per year, Walker said.

So should the city expand to 180,000 rooms, McCarran would need to process 14.7 million more passengers per year.

Las Vegas' expansion isn't guaranteed, however, given challenges such as cruise lines, tribal casinos and limited air service from several coveted foreign markets. Disruptive events such as Hurricane Katrina or the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks are also a constant concern.

"If you take a look at CNN for any one hour, there's probably three or four things happening that could have an impact on Las Vegas," Ralenkotter said.

Growth also isn't entirely dependent upon increased air service. A nearly $1 billion effort to make Interstate 15 an eight-lane highway between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area is under way, as are plans for a $1.7 billion alternate "superhighway" north of the San Gabriel mountain range. The Hoover Dam bypass should also ease traffic to and from Arizona, Ralenkotter said.

Commissioner Bruce Woodbury suggested to Ralenkotter that the state's resort industry do more to fund necessary highway improvements.

Woodbury also questioned Walker on the Federal Aviation Administration's controversial "right turn" proposal involving most flights taking off at McCarran.

The FAA's proposed change has upset many residents and civic leaders who oppose the prospect of jets soaring above Summerlin and the northwest valley. But Walker said McCarran's airspace capacity would drop by more than 1 million passengers annually if some type of right turn is not reintroduced.

County Manager Thom Reilly said staffers are also examining how projected travel industry growth would affect local infrastructure. That report should be presented to the commission next month.

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