By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Building a secondary airport for Las Vegas in the Ivanpah Valley will cost more than $12 billion, Clark County Commission Chairman Jim Gibson said on Nevada Newsmakers.
That is believed to make it the most expensive construction in the history of Las Vegas, easily outdistancing the cost of City Center at $8 billion, and the currently under-construction MSG Sphere at $2.17 billion.
Even the Hoover Dam, which cost $49 million in the 1930s, would have cost about $860 in today’s economy, according to published projections.
“Let me put it this way,” Gibson told host Sam Shad, “It is very expensive.”
Gibson based his estimate on county cost projections that were made about the airport about four years ago. The airport is planned to be built about 30 miles south of downtown Las Vegas off the Interstate-15 corridor.
“What I can tell you is that in 2019 our estimate was about $12 billion,” he said in the interview that was taped last week. “So given the way things have gone, you can do the math and your guess is just as good as mine.
“We really won’t know that until we get through the environmental studies so we’ll know what the environmental remediation requirement may be,” Gibson continued. “And that, by itself, will be pretty significant. And then we’ll begin to put the numbers to paper and begin work on methods for financing.”
Planning for the secondary airport is gaining momentum as Reid International Airport continues to creep forward to its annual passenger capacity of 63 million to 65 million passengers In 2022, Reid International welcomed 52.6 million, according to published reports.
Reid International drew 18.3 million passengers through April, a 22 percent increase in passenger traffic in the first four months of 2023 compared with a year ago, according to the Nevada Independent. At that pace, Reid International will easily shatter last year’s record-setting passenger numbers.
Recently, the Nevada Legislature unanimously approved Senate Bill 19, which enabled Clark County to put aside 5,000 acres or more off Interstate 15 between Jean and Primm in the Ivanpah Valley as a new town for the planned Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport, currently the official name of the airport.
The project is also accelerated by concerns made earlier this year by Clark County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis, who said capacity at Reid International could be reached by 2030 although the secondary airport may not be ready until 2037.
“We are aware of the differences in timing,” Gibson said. “(But there’s) nothing we can do about that. But we are convinced we will get something up and operating that will meet the needs of the public.”
Some had hoped the town around the airport would be built first. However, Gibson said county and airport officials want to get some part of the secondary airport in running order as soon as possible to relieve the congestion at Reid International.
“We really think we’re in a place where we’re going to be able to get that airport up and operating,” Gibson said. “We are not going to build the whole airport, we are not going to build everything about it to begin with. But we are going to build enough to give significant relief the moment it opens.
“We’re going to have to have a reliever airport because demand for seats into the Las Vegas market continues to soar and it is not prudent to just turn that off,” Gibson said. “What is prudent is, that if it is in your ability to do something about it, then to do something about it, and that is what we intend to do.”
Gibson said he’s pleased Reid International is a thriving, busy airport, adding, “You want it to be a busy airport. The question is: How much busier than busy can you really be and operate it well and give the same kind of traveling experience?”
Some business leaders have projected the secondary Ivanpah airport as a cargo hub, which can serve as a base of operations for an expanded warehousing, distribution and logistics economy for Southern Nevada.
However, cargo is not the driving factor in the Ivanpah airport’s development, Gibson said. Passenger traffic is, he added.
“Over the last eight or nine years, we’ve learned that cargo may not be a real big component,” Gibson said. “It is not an overwhelming component today and does not really constrain us today because the movement of goods is done a little differently how we might have imagined they would do. But I think that in the end, we’ll be able to accommodate the traveling public.”
Other plans to use Ivanpah for long-haul or international passenger flights are also unclear, Gibson said.
“Whether or not we’ll be able to isolate the international or the long haul traveler is a question we have not really crossed yet, but it is surely one of the things we’re taking seriously,” Gibson said.
“We want the overall experience to be a good one when they come to Vegas because they need to come back two-and-a-half times or the three times each year,” Gibson said, referring to data about frequency of visitorship to Las Vegas.
Some had hoped that the proposed Brightline high-speed train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas would include a stop at the Ivanpah airport. However, there is no Ivanpah stop planned in the initial development of the airport, Gibson said.
Brightline representatives have said they hope the high-speed rail service between the two cities will be running in time for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“In the beginning stage of the development of the airport we will not have a stop there,” Gibson said, adding county officials are focus initially as keeping Ivanpah a reliever airport for Reid International.
“Keep in mind is what we don’t need is this to become an LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) reliever airport,” he said. “We want it to relieve LAS, Reid International, and not an airport somewhere in California.
“And the way that things are going in California, you could see people getting on a high-speed rail to go catch a plane out from Ivanpah to get to where they are going,” Gibson said. “We don’t need that. That is not our priority. Our priority today is the traveling public that is coming to and departing from Las Vegas.
“But we will have the capacity to incorporate that kind of transportation partnering over the course of time,” Gibson added. “But right now, that is not our plan. Right now this is an airport to relieve Reid International.