Our favorite welfare queen, Xpress West (née Desert Xpress) isn’t letting its plans be constrained by anything so mundane as reality. Original pitchman Sig “The Fixer” Rogich has crawled off into the underbrush somewhere but his Choo-Choo-to-Nowhere has found additional front men. And Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) continues to push for a record amount of federal subsidy. It will take $6.9 billion, minimum (some sources say $8 billion), just to get the line from Las Vegas to that mother lode of tourism, Victorville. Xpress West hucksters now say they can get you all the way to Los Angeles — with the help of a big-ass loan (at least $1.5 billion) and an circuitous detour through Palmdale … by 2029, that is. Having drunk deeply of their own bathwater, they’re now talking about a San Francisco leg … not to mention ones to Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Denver. Xpress West COO Andrew Mack talks vaguely about the line being “an extension of Las Vegas,” implying — but carefully not promising — the presence of en route gambling, which would be illegal beyond description.
Still not laughing? How about pledges of $45/ticket, 90-minute, L.A.-to-Vegas runs (subject to 17 years’ worth of inflation, mind you)? Or $140/240-minute Frisco-to-Sin City trips? Or a budget that’s chump change compared the $68 billion cost of this Golden State-only route? And if you think you’re going to be able to “skip such hassles as airport security, bag checks and flight delays,” boy, is the joke on you!
Nor does the brain trust behind this boondoggle, er, bold experiment in transportation inspire confidence. Lead investor Anthony Marnell II builds casinos, not transit lines, and construction in the casino biz is notorious for cost overruns. Another $50 million comes from secretive North Dakota motel baron Gary Tharaldson (left). That seed money is just a fraction of the $18 million/acre he suckered out of Harrah’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman for the old Westward Ho and its sister property, The Ho. Tharaldson’s biggest legacy to Vegas is the failed ManhattanWest condo project over on the west side of the valley. Yup, just the guy I’d trust with billions in taxpayer dollars.
For now, the project lives or dies on federal funding. “Backup planning isn’t necessarily at the top of minds right now,” yawned an Xpress West exec. And why not? If the venture fails, it “likely” becomes a ward of the government. So one way or another, there’s a not-inconsiderable risk that John Q. Taxpayer is going to be taken for a ride, even if he never sets foot aboard Xpress West.