Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has weighed in on renaming McCarran International Airport — he’s for it.
Named for former Nevada Sen. Patrick McCarran, who drafted several pieces of legislation in the 1930s and '40s that became the foundation for today’s aviation regulatory structure, the airport has become the focus of a name change debate among Clark County leaders and the local tourism industry.
But McCarran also had a dark side that Reid says makes him unworthy of the recognition.
“Pat McCarran was one of the most anti-Semitic — some of you might know my wife’s Jewish — one of the most anti-black, one of the most prejudiced people who has ever served in the Senate,” Reid said in response to questions he and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood fielded Friday at a news conference on recent transportation triumphs for Southern Nevada. “It’s not a decision I’m going to make, but if you ask me to give my opinion, I don’t think his name should be on anything.”
The Clark County Commission will be responsible for considering any name change and the associated costs of making it. Some have estimated the price tag to be more than $1 million to make the switch. The topic also was debated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which likes the idea of using a name like Las Vegas International Airport to extend the city’s brand abroad.
Reid and LaHood summarized some accomplishments for Southern Nevada transportation in a time when many proposals are in legislative gridlock. The laundry list of successes includes the opening of McCarran’s $2.4 billion Terminal 3, which Reid and LaHood toured; the designation of U.S. 93 as Interstate 11, making it eligible for funding to bring it to interstate highway standards; and the passage of a surface transportation bill and Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation.
They also received pats on the back for the Interstate 15 south design-build project, the Summerlin high-occupancy vehicle flyover, the Sahara Express Rapid Transit and Bonneville Transit Terminal projects, and progress on McCarran’s new air traffic control tower.
But one item that’s still on hold is a federal loan request to build a high-speed railroad between Las Vegas and Southern California. XpressWest, a private venture planning the proposed 186-mile system to Victorville, Calif., would connect to the California High Speed Rail line in Palmdale, Calif., through an agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
XpressWest applied for a $5.5 billion loan through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program in March 2011. Reid and LaHood had little information about the status of the application.
“We have been meeting with the investors and we have a study that’s been completed,” LaHood said. “It’s a study that gives us some very good guidance, and we’re going to continue our discussions. Sen. Reid and I have talked to the investors, and those discussions are ongoing. We know about what it’s going to cost and we’re trying to work through some of the details. Once we finish our discussions, we’ll have something to announce.”
“This is a big project,” Reid said. “This is 20,000 jobs. (California) Gov. (Jerry) Brown has signed off on what we’re trying to do. Obviously, it’s a good deal for the state of California and the state of Nevada because they’ve already started the project in California. I’m very satisfied with where we are now. I wish we could move more quickly, but when you’re talking about billions and billions of dollars, it’s not that easy to finalize the project.”
LaHood also announced that McCarran had been awarded a $17.6 million grant to reconstruct two heavily used taxiways at the airport. A grant from the FAA Airport Improvement Program will be used to replace cracked asphalt with more durable concrete that will stand up to Las Vegas’ extreme temperatures and will require less maintenance.