It was nearly a year ago when a fleet of hydraulic hammers converged upon the Warm Springs Road bridge and slowly gnawed at the span until nothing was left but a pile of rubble -- 800 yards of concrete and 100 tons of steel -- on Interstate 15.
No worries, transportation officials told residents and business owners in the southwest. Their cherished passage linking the west side of the Las Vegas Valley to the east would soon return, and it would be better than ever: four lanes rather than two.
The projected completion date was late summer, three months ago.
That seemed plausible as support columns quickly went up and the ramps leading to the bridge took shape. Since then, nothing. So what happened?
Corey Newcome, project manager for the $240 million Interstate 15 south design-build endeavor, doesn't like talking about it. During a peer review of the drawings, flaws were discovered in the design. The steel girders used in the plans were not large enough to accommodate the capacity of the bridge.
"If I knew then what I know now, we wouldn't have knocked down the bridge," said Newcome, a project manager with Las Vegas Paving.
The bridge had to be redesigned and girders reordered, pushing the finish date to May.
With any massive project, unforeseen problems arise. It is particularly troubling when they affect roads residents once had and now do not, as opposed to a newly built road that motorists have yet to grow accustomed to. This is something Newcome readily acknowledges.
The Warm Springs span wasn't the only surprise.
Las Vegas Paving planned to build a ramp that would lead motorists from Interstate 215 and Interstate 15 to eastbound Blue Diamond Road. The state transportation division said there was not enough room. Traffic stopped at the Blue Diamond signal could back up onto the access road, which curves right before the road. They feared motorists coming around the bend would not be able to stop in time.
"It was a safety issue," Newcome said.
Now residents who live along Blue Diamond east of I-15 must head west on Blue Diamond and make a U-turn or exit at Las Vegas Boulevard and travel south to Blue Diamond.
Enough with the problems. What about some good news?
Work from the I-215/I-15 interchange to Silverado Ranch Boulevard will be completed by the end of the month. Also by month's end, the reconfigured exit to Tropicana Avenue will open. Motorists will exit before Russell Road and use a new access road that crosses over the onramp from Interstate 215 west to Interstate 15 north.
It is undoubtedly odd to exit the freeway so far from the actual arterial one is trying to reach, but the access roads allow the merging to happen off the freeway, which will alleviate braking and backups.
"I'm sure we're going to get some flak," Newcome said. "People are creatures of habit, but hopefully they will adapt."
In mid-January, the access road that will lead from Tropicana Avenue south to either Interstate 215 or Interstate 15 will open with a temporary underpass below the railroad crossing just north of Sunset Road. Las Vegas Paving is still working with the railroad to widen the crossing to accommodate a straight stretch rather than the temporary bend around the existing berms.
By June, the entire project should wrap up. That will include the two-lane access roads that will flank I-15 from Tropicana Avenue to Blue Diamond Road. These roads are designed to accommodate traffic headed to Strip properties, freeing up the interstate for motorists traveling through town.
They will also provide relief when accidents on the freeway cause congestion.
This is the largest road construction project on Interstate 15, and it is the largest Las Vegas Paving has ever undertaken.
It includes 26 new bridges, 35 retaining walls and 1.5 miles of sounds walls. Major improvements were made to exits at Tropicana, Russell, I-215, Blue Diamond and Silverado Ranch.
There has been plenty of grumbling as ramps were closed and lanes restricted during overnight hours, but unlike other road construction projects in Las Vegas, at least workers are seen around the clock.
"If we're going to take lanes away, we're going to start work right away," Newcome said.
The company cast concrete beams off-site and trucked them in to reduce the amount of time lanes and ramps would have to be restricted. The company's priority is to keep traffic moving, especially on Interstate 215 and Interstate 15, where 150,000 vehicles travel each day.
"The traffic is relentless, day or night," Newcome said. "That much traffic makes this tough to do."
Progress is noticeable and, relatively speaking, the end is near. In less than a year, Interstate 15 through Las Vegas should be a breeze. But, don't worry, it won't be the end of construction on the state's busiest freeway.
In fact, road work on the freeway will be a constant in our lifetime.
Up next is the interchange at Cactus Avenue, then another at the Sloan exit.
Also, get ready for Project Neon, which focuses on the Charleston Boulevard interchange and then more work north near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where an interchange will be built at Interstate 215.
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