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December 19, 2014

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Man must walk before he flies

Or take a shuttle bus as McCarran economy parking lot gives way to construction

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Steve Marcus

The economy parking lot at McCarran International Airport is jammed Friday. Construction of Terminal 3 has reduced the number of parking spots at the lot from 4,100 to 3,000, and the entire lot, southeast of Russell and Paradise roads, will soon be swallowed up entirely by the construction, probably in early September.

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If not for the triple-digit heat, you’d think it was holiday season judging by parking lots at McCarran International Airport.

The spots are filling up fast this summer, particularly on weekends. Surprisingly, the odds of being forced to park a few miles away from the airport actually are higher now than in the historically busier Thanksgiving-through-New Year’s season — and it could get worse before relief arrives.

Construction of Terminal 3 is to blame. It has reduced the number of parking spots at the airport’s economy lot from 4,100 to 3,000, and the entire lot, southeast of Russell and Paradise roads, will soon be swallowed up entirely by the construction, probably in early September, airport spokesman Chris Jones says.

The economy lot has been full on 15 days this year, prompting airport staffers to direct the overflow to a 1,150-space lot at UNLV across from the Thomas & Mack Center. The “red overflow lot” was full during the July Fourth holiday weekend, so about 600 drivers were directed to park at an adjacent UNLV lot.

One consolation: The red overflow lot and the yet-to-be-utilized “blue lot” are free.

And, as with the economy lot, buses shuttle travelers between the overflows and the departure gates at no charge.

But it’s a longer trip to the terminal from the overflows than from the economy lot. It’s also a longer ride from the 1,700-space lot scheduled to open next month across from the new McCarran Rent-a-Car Center on Gilespie Street south of the Las Vegas Beltway. That lot, which is costing $9 million to build, will initially serve as the replacement for the current economy lot (after it closes in September) and will later be used as an overflow lot, to be used only when the airport’s parking garages and future economy surface lot are full, Jones says.

If trends hold, fewer Las Vegas Valley residents will be flying out of town after the summer vacation season, so that should lessen the likelihood that travelers will be forced into overflow lots.

But until then, if you’re jetting out of the valley on weekends this summer, plan on leaving for McCarran earlier than you normally would. Jones suggests leaving 20 to 30 minutes earlier or calling the airport’s parking tip line, 261-5122, for a real-time parking update.

That could spare you the anxiety travelers experienced over the July Fourth holiday weekend.

On the Thursday afternoon preceding July Fourth, the long-term garage was full and just a few spots were left in the airport’s $6-per-day economy parking lot. (That lot used to cost $8 a day, but county commissioners lowered it to lure motorists away from the long-term parking structure.)

By dawn on July Fourth, the long-term parking garage and the economy lot were full. A sign blocked the garage and a man there directed traffic away from the economy lot to a blacktop almost two miles away, the red overflow lot.

Airport officials expect the parking issues will ease before Thanksgiving with the opening of a new 5,000-spot economy lot on the site of the airport’s former rental car center, at the triangle created by the airfield, Kitty Hawk Way and Paradise Road. That lot is costing $9.6 million to build.

More on-site parking should arrive in 2012, when the airport plans to open the 14-gate Terminal 3. The terminal is slated to cost $1.8 billion, which includes $128.5 million for a 6,000-space parking garage.

“We’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve,” says Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission. “And it’s difficult.”

County commissioners knew there would be a temporary parking crunch and considered building a parking garage that would have opened right about now to deal with it.

But they decided against it because, Reid says, “it didn’t make sense to spend $35 million on a structure we won’t need in three years.”

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