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Clark County backs plan for state to issue bonds for high-speed rail line

High-speed rail service between Las Vegas and Southern California moved a step closer to fruition with Clark County pledging support Tuesday for the state’s approval of private activity bonds for the project.

Clark County commissioners unanimously approved the findings made by the state Department of Business and Industry, which will be considered as the state decides whether to issue $200 million in tax-exempt bonds from the state’s allocation limit toward Virgin Trains USA’s planned high-speed rail line.

“We have been working to achieve high-speed rail between Clark County and Southern California for decades, and today’s approval marks a significant milestone in that long process,” Commissioner Michael Naft said. “The project does not use a penny of taxpayer money.”

Internal Revenue Service guidelines allow Virgin to market up to four times the amount of the $200 million in bonding authority, for a total of $800 million.

The bonds could be approved Friday at a special state Finance Board meeting, according to Terry Reynolds, director of the Department of Business and Industry.

In April, a California finance committee approved the allocation of $600 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project, which can be marketed for a total of $2.4 billion in tax-free, private equity bonds, per IRS regulations.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation in March approved $1 billion in tax-free private bonds for the project.

The bond approvals are reliant upon all Virgin bonds being issued by Sept. 30.

The $4.8 billion rail line would run from Victorville, California, to Las Vegas. Possible future extensions of the line to Rancho Cucamonga and Palmdale, California, would allow riders to transfer onto Metrolink trains to access the Los Angeles area.

This month, Virgin entered into a lease agreement with California to use existing right of way around Interstate 15 for the project.

Virgin entered into a development partnership agreement with the Clark County Department of Aviation to work out any issues that might arise between the two as the rail line is constructed, including dealing with future plans for an airport in Ivanpah that could be constructed between Las Vegas and the California state line.

“This may result in the airport financially participating that would otherwise not have been incorporated into the XpressWest (Virgin Trains) development plans,” Anthony Marnell, minority investor in XpressWest, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The high-speed service between the Victor Valley area and Las Vegas would include up to 32 trains daily that will travel the 180-mile corridor in approximately 90 minutes. Each train set will have the capacity to accommodate up to 600 passengers.

Plans call for the construction of a two-story train station on 14 of 110 acres owned by Virgin and located off Las Vegas Boulevard between El Dorado Lane and Robindale Road.

The Las Vegas station would include a seven-story tall parking garage, outdoor drinking and dining possibilities, a self-ticketing area, a departure lobby, retail space, baggage claim and office space.

Virgin plans to offer multiple classes of service with travelers able to reserve specific seats and at times that fit their travel schedules. On-board food and beverage services will be available, along with free high-speed Wi-Fi.

Plans call for groundbreaking on the project to occur before the end of the year, with service slated to begin by the end of 2023. Projections by the developer state the project will remove up to 3 million vehicles annually from the busy I-15 corridor, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions as result.

“I think it will be wonderful for bringing tourists from California to Southern Nevada,” County Commissioner Justin Jones said. “Train travel will be a fantastic option for people who want to come to Las Vegas or want to go to California in an environmentally sensitive way.”

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