I like to make predictions about as much as I like to bet on football. I don't, because I never win. But I'm going to go out on limb and make two predictions anyway.
First, the New York Giants will win the Super Bowl today.
Second, the express lanes that the Nevada Department of Transportation is planning on building on Interstate 15 will not end gridlock. Instead, the work will create a bottleneck where the lanes end at Sahara Avenue and Russell Road.
Last week, the state Transportation Board approved the $35 million project that would create a fifth lane in both directions of the interstate from Sahara to Russell, a 5.5-mile stretch of freeway. The two left lanes of the interstate will be paired to create express lanes in both directions.
The express lanes will be separated from the other three interstate lanes by short markers, called "candlesticks." The plan is to have the express lanes up and running by summer 2009.
Any vehicle with any number of people can use the lane. The trick is that once you enter the lane, you cannot leave until it ends at either Russell or Sahara.
State officials are hoping motorists using the express lanes will "zip on through." They believe traffic will move swiftly, because the motorists using the express lanes won't have to deal with all the vehicles getting on or off the highway at the Spring Mountain Road, Flamingo Road and Tropicana Avenue interchanges.
Vehicles getting on and off the interstate cause traffic flow to slow. And state officials say most of the 250,000 drivers that traverse I-15 do not use those three exits anyway.
There is no question that the extra lane is needed. I-15 is running above capacity. And the widening is an easy and cheap project by today's standards, because it just requires restriping the roadway and not buying new land to expand the freeway.
My problem is with the barrier.
Right now, motorists have four lanes to choose from on I-15. Most people who don't use the exits at Tropicana, Flamingo or Spring Mountain, usually get over to the far left lanes.
The traffic folks say most of the drivers on I-15 don't use those three exits, leading me to speculate those motorists would be more apt to use the express lanes.
So the engineers are proposing squeezing the majority of drivers into two lanes, when before they had four lanes.
What must not be forgotten is that, at the end of the express lanes, I-15 will narrow to four lanes again. So anyone using the fifth lane will have to merge with the other express lane.
I believe this merge will lead to congestion at the end points of the express lanes at Sahara or Russell.
I think this can be avoided by just not putting up the barrier and giving drivers the freedom to move around.
Having said all this, I readily admit I don't have an engineering degree.
I could be way off. Remember, I believe the Giants are going to win today.
So I spoke with Transportation Department assistant director for planning Kent Cooper about my idea.
Cooper said the merge problem at the end of the express lanes was an "excellent observation." (Sorry folks, I couldn't resist this little self indulgence, especially since he actually said it).
"That's what we are looking at now, how you start and end those" express lanes without causing a backup, he said.
But what Cooper said my theory doesn't account for is that the barriers are an essential part of not only controlling the traffic flow, but also creating a safer freeway.
The problem that the traffic folks have seen is that people getting on the interstate at Tropicana, Flamingo and Spring Mountain are immediately shifting lanes, trying to get to the far left lane. Then, as they near their exit, they weave four lanes to the right in order to get off the freeway.
Cooper said the engineers are worried that, without the barrier, vehicles getting on I-15 will do the same thing, just with five lanes, creating a far more dangerous situation.
And while it may not be safe to cross those lanes in that manner, it's not necessarily illegal either, Cooper said. But it causes other motorists to slam on their brakes as people cut in and out of those lanes, which causes the traffic slowdown.
On top of that, the Transportation Department is in the planning stages of Project Neon, which will widen I-15 from Sahara Avenue to the Spaghetti Bowl. One of the aspects of that project, which is still two or three years away from construction, will be an HOV flyover lane from I-15 that will connect to U.S. Highway 95.
So, while the fifth lane on I-15 will end for now, it eventually will fit in with a valleywide traffic system after Project Neon is complete, Cooper said.
Let's hope the traffic folks can figure out how to ease that potential bottleneck. At least they know the problem exists.
HIT 'N' RUN
Folks intending on watching the Super Bowl with a cocktail or two should find a sober ride home, because Southern Nevada law enforcement agencies plan on having a strong presence on the roads today. Nevada Highway Patrol troopers will join the Metropolitan Police Department and Henderson police in a roving DUI saturation patrol.
AAA is offering its Tipsy Tow service from 6 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Monday.
Call 1-800-222-4357 for a tow of up to five miles and a ride to your residence. Potential passengers, party hosts, bartenders and restaurant managers are encouraged to call if there's a need, but the company said it won't accept reservations.