The City Council is expected to decide this week whether to reduce the downtown portion of Grand Avenue from four lanes to two.
Merchants groups are pushing for two lanes, while some leaders on Las Vegas’ west side are pushing to keep it four, contending that slower traffic means more motorists would use New Mexico Avenue instead.
Meanwhile, an official warns that the city could lose $1.2 million in federal funds if a decision isn’t made soon.
For the last couple of years, MainStreet Las Vegas, a group representing downtown merchants, has been planning a project on five blocks of Grand in downtown with the idea of luring more out-of-town visitors to the Meadow City’s central areas.
People often go through town without realizing that there’s more to it than Grand. They don’t see the town’s historic districts.
Under the two-lane option, the city plans to add trees, benches and old-fashioned street lamps to beautify the area. None of those features would fit if the city stuck to four lanes, MainStreet maintains.
The two-lane option has run into resistance from some westside leaders who fear that slowing traffic in downtown would mean more cars and trucks on New Mexico Avenue, which runs by three elementary schools and a senior center.
In fact, West Las Vegas school board members have come out against the two-lane option, saying they feared increased traffic near the elementary schools.
MainStreet has presented a three-lane alternative as a compromise. That proposal involves two travel lanes in each direction, a raised landscaped median, and protected left turn lanes at every intersection, including at Grand and Douglas, to direct locals and travelers into the heart of Las Vegas.
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Lawrence Quintana, MainStreet’s president, said 94 percent of people who attended public hearings on the issue favored the two-lane option. And he said the group recently interviewed 31 businesses and all but one favored two lanes.
He said the city may well lose $1.2 million in federal Economic Development Administration funds if it goes with four lanes.
“Businesses know the importance of this,” Quintana said. “This is a key project to developing our economic base.”
Quintana said computerized models show that a narrower Grand in downtown would mean a 11-second delay. He said the project’s advocates have met with and made their case to Cruz Roybal and Morris Madrid, the two westside council members who have expressed reservations to reducing the number of lanes.
He said Mayor Tony Marquez wouldn’t meet with the advocates until after the council votes on the issue.
In a statement Tuesday, Marquez said, “I have attended a couple of meetings in the past, and MainStreet has been focused and driven on a two-lane project. It’s time the governing body listen as a body and make a decision, as a body in a public setting.”
Quintana said losing the federal money would be unfortunate, especially so soon after the city lost more than $1 million in state money for a water project because of confusion over the funds’ intent.
“The community can’t afford to give away money like this. That’s not the message we want to send,” he said.
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The city’s agreement with the federal agency calls for a two-lane Grand. And an official from an organization acting as a liaison between the city and the federal government warns the city may lose all of the money.
Barbara Deaux, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, said the Economic Development Administration will not be patient forever.
“If a decision is not reached soon, I cannot guarantee that the EDA money will remain available,” Deaux stated in an e-mail to MainStreet last week.
She wrote the community would have to prove the four-lane option would promote economic development, especially because the original grant agreement calls for two lanes.
Councilman Andrew Feldman, whose ward includes Grand, favors two lanes. But he said he does so with a few conditions — caution lights at all the schools on New Mexico, load limits for certain streets, particularly New Mexico, and signs on Interstate 25 leading traffic headed to Mora away from New Mexico Avenue.
Ultimately, he said, Las Vegas should have an east-west arterial in which traffic would bypass the town entirely.
Madrid said he would need his concerns about New Mexico traffic alleviated before he would support the two-lane proposal, saying he has deep reservations about the possible increase in traffic next to the three schools and the senior center.
Madrid wondered why four lanes was presented as an option in the first place if the city were to lose more than $1 million.