Thursday, July 15, 2004 | 10:54 a.m.
This morning's opening of the Las Vegas Monorail didn't have the bevy of celebrities and national media present at a gala on Wednesday, but it had what monorail officials wanted: tourists, convention-goers and a few locals ready to pay $3 to hop aboard.
Karen Moss, a food scientist in town for the International Food Technologist Convention, was among the first this morning to board at the MGM Grand station.
She said she looked forward to riding the monorail and welcomed it as an alternative to the bus ride from the convention center back to her hotel, made lengthy by all of the stops along the way. Moss said she would have used it before, but delays kept it from opening.
"That's why I chose the MGM (to be close to the monorail), but it wasn't done until this morning," said Moss, who purchased a one-day pass.
David Belzer, in town for the same convention, was ready to ride, but not impressed. Belzer, owner of a seafood flavorings company in Glenview, Ill., regularly carries large displays with him from his hotel room at the MGM Grand to the Las Vegas Convention Center, he said.
After riding the 9 a.m. train today, he said it makes more sense for him to stick to taxicabs and rental cars.
"Dragging a display showcase is too difficult," Belzer said. "It doesn't make sense."
He also noted the overdue start date for the project, which originally was to open in January.
"Six months ago this should have been done," he said. "And now, the last day of the convention, it's done."
Craig McFate, an out-of-work teacher who moved from Southern California to Boulder City two and half weeks ago, bought his ticket about 30 minutes before the monorail opened officially this morning.
McFate said the monorail would help relieve traffic in Las Vegas.
"I came from Los Angeles, which is worse, but I would say this (Las Vegas traffic) is a close second," McFate said. "It's the wave of the future. I think Walt Disney is being proven right."
Disneyland and Disneyworld theme parks were among the first to have monorail systems at their parks more than 30 years ago.
Al and Delores Lamson of Londonderry, N.H., saw the news reports Wednesday of the monorail's official opening and rode the train this morning to the Bally's station. Traffic has long been a concern for the Lamsons, who on their last visit to Las Vegas canceled a sidetrip to Hoover Dam because traffic was too heavy.
They normally rent a car when in town, the Lamsons said.
"It's pretty exciting," Delores Lamson said. "We've had to cancel our trips because of traffic."
The system was unveiled Wednesday morning to media and state and local dignitaries in a highly orchestrated, theatrical ceremony that included stops at each station along the 4-mile route to pick up Strip performers ranging from cast members of Cirque du Soleil's "Zumanity" to a Julius Caesar impersonator at the Caesars Palace stop and, of course, an Elvis impersonator from the Las Vegas Hilton.
"Today we start a new era in transportation," said Jim Gibson, chief executive officer of Transit System Management, the company created to run the system.
The $650 million monorail runs from the MGM Grand to the Sahara hotel and has seven stops along the way. It costs $3 for a one-way ticket, $5.50 for a round trip and $25 for a three-day pass.
Sue Broadbent, widow of the late former Clark County Commissioner Robert N. Broadbent, a key champion of the project that is now named for him, said the monorail represented her husband's vision for Southern Nevada.
Bob Broadbent, Clark County's former aviation director and a driving force in the expansion of McCarran International Airport, died in August, almost a year before the project opened.
"This is an emotional day for all the members of our family," Sue Broadbent told the crowd. "Bob was always going to retire but he was always going to finish one more project. ... All of us are feeling a little nostalgic that his retirement could not have been prolonged one last time."
Gibson, also the mayor of Henderson, said it could take up to 60 days to determine if the monorail meets its ridership projections, estimated at 20 million people a year.
Currently the system is aimed mostly at tourists visiting the Strip, Gibson said. A second stretch going from the Sahara hotel to downtown Las Vegas is scheduled to break ground next spring, he said.
The system will ultimately connect to McCarran, at which point it is expected to be a draw to local citizens as a public transportation alternative, Gibson said.
The first leg of the system was pushed back more than six months, as engineers and technicians worked to correct a succession of computer and mechanical glitches that plagued the monorail. Contracts required the trains to run trouble-free for 30 days before the system opened.
Now that it's open, Gibson said he had no qualms about the monorail meeting its ridership goals.
"Nervous is not having the system open," he said Wednesday.