As if the commute on U.S. Highway 95 weren't bad enough, now there are giant desert creatures to contend with.
A one-story roadrunner, a 17-foot gray fox and a Gila monster the size of a school bus went up alongside the highway late last week as part of a new sign marking the location of the Springs Preserve.
The animals now dominate the sound wall along the south side of the highway between Valley View Boulevard and Rancho Drive. They were joined there Wednesday by 5-foot lighted letters that spell out "Springs Preserve" along a 60-foot section of the wall.
It's advertising with an educational slant, said Dawn Barraclough, spokeswoman for the Springs Preserve.
"There are over 200,000 people who drive that road on a daily basis," she said.
The three animals are all indigenous to the area, albeit on a much smaller scale. Your average Gila monster would fit in a shoe box. An adult roadrunner compares in size to a football, a gray fox to a shoulder bag for a laptop computer.
The three roadside replicas were 18 months in the making, from conception to installation.
The concept by Las Vegas company Outdoor Solutions required approval from a host of entities, including the city of Las Vegas and the Nevada Department of Transportation. Company president Scott Carlovsky said the only reason the sign and the animals were allowed is because the sound wall is actually owned by the Springs Preserve.
The entire display, including the lighted letters, cost $180,000 and was funded as part of the original budget for the $235 million Springs Preserve.
The Las Vegas Valley Water District opened the 180-acre collection of museums, galleries and desert gardens near Valley View and U.S. 95 in June 2007.
Since preserve's new sign went up on the freeway sound wall, a few motorists have reported seeing cars swerve as they passed the creatures. One driver said she was so distracted she missed her exit.
But Trooper Kevin Honea, spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol, said he drives that stretch of highway all the time and hasn't noticed an increase in erratic driving since the giant animals appeared.
"With all the neon distractions in Las Vegas, it's just another thing," Honea said.
Preserve officials hope the new display stands out a bit more than that.
In its first full year of operation, the attraction drew roughly 200,000 visitors, about one-third the number originally projected.
As a result, expenses outstripped revenues by more than $10 million in the first year, leaving the water district to make up the difference.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.