Election Section

More Californians are driving to Las Vegas

The Associated Press
Tuesday October 23, 2001

LAS VEGAS — Traffic on Interstate 15 at the California-Nevada border in September spiked nearly 16 percent over September 2000, according to Nevada Department of Transportation data. 

By Sept. 13, traffic was up more than 19 percent, with 31,500 cars passing through Primm that day on I-15, the data showed. 

Kirk Anderson, vice president of radio broadcaster the Highway Stations, which compiled the NDOT numbers, told the Las Vegas Sun he’s never seen anything like it. 

“Over the last 20 years we’ve done research on the highway, it’s been evergreen ... up steadily 4 to 6 percent a year,” Anderson said. “Never have we seen the kind of instantaneous change that’s taking place.” 

Overall, I-15 traffic in September was up 3.9 percent to 1.08 million, but that number is misleading. 

From Sept. 1 to Sept. 10, the growth rate averaged 0.6 percent per day. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Sept. 30, it averaged just under 7 percent. 

“It’s a silver lining in what otherwise looks like a pretty dark cloud,” said William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

The cause, most observers agree, is fairly obvious. 

“It means people don’t want to fly,” said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, the largest hotel-casino operator on the Las Vegas Strip. “It’s the reason our occupancy is anywhere close to normal. Otherwise we’d probably all be down close to 60 percent (occupancy).” 

Numbers provided by McCarran International Airport Friday reinforce that theory. In September, McCarran reported 2.12 million passengers went through the airport for the month — down a whopping 28.3 percent from the year-ago period. 

To compensate for the decline, Las Vegas hotel-casino operators have cut room rates heavily since Sept. 11.  

And the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has launched a targeted marketing campaign on certain key markets — particularly the major drive-in markets of Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. 

The result has been weekend occupancy of close to 100 percent, but at far lower rates than normal. 

That continued to be the case over the weekend, Feldman said. 

“Occupancy was closer to normal, but rates were still substantially down,” Feldman said. “Revenues across the board remain down.” 

But Anderson doesn’t believe all the new drivers are necessarily bargain-hunters. Instead, Anderson said many are people who normally fly, who are turned off by long lines at the airports and concerned about safety. 

“These are not people that have historically driven, but have flown,” he said.