Imagine if your work space was located eight feet from Interstate 15. Only a concrete barrier separates you from tractor-trailers roaring by so loudly, nothing else can be heard; so quickly, the burst of wind lifts your hard hat. Your "office" is open to the 107-degree heat with no shade within sight.
This is what day-shift crews working on an expansive Interstate 15 project endure each day.
Make no mistake, the 200-plus workers on the job are grateful to be employed, but they are in the midst of a project that, night or day, is like no other in recent history. Not only will I-15 be widened, but two 40-foot-wide frontage roads will be built parallel to the freeway between Tropicana Avenue and Blue Diamond Road. It includes new offramps, onramps and 23 new bridges, all in about a four-mile stretch.
Right now, most of this work is split between the interchange of I-15 and Blue Diamond and the far more challenging Beltway-I-15 intersection, which accommodates an average of 300,000 vehicles every day.
Las Vegas Paving must deal with the high volume of traffic combined with the cozy distance between workers and high-speed traffic. On top of that, they have to do the work without interrupting traffic during the day and setting up detours at night.
The dangers associated with the project have become apparent in the last two weeks as four motorists and one worker have been killed in construction zones.
In contrast, when the I-15 north widening project work was finished, Nevada Department of Transportation representatives boasted that no one was killed or injured during two years of construction.
They credited motorists with respecting work areas and identifying alternate routes.
So what makes this project any different?
"This has got to be the second busiest intersection in the state, and that makes if very difficult," Corey Newcome, Las Vegas Paving's project manager said of the Interstate 15-Las Vegas Beltway interchange.
One man died after he suffered a heart attack while driving on Blue Diamond Road and slammed into orange barrels. A Las Vegas Paving worker was killed last week on site, his death devastating the company office on Hacienda Avenue. Details of that accident will not be disclosed until an investigation is completed.
On June 18, a car driven by a 19-year-old zipped past detour signs and through orange barrels that marked the closure of the eastbound beltway's offramp leading to I-15 north. Steel beams blocked the ramp as a crane prepared to lift them up to the interstate.
All three passengers were killed instantly.
Ten minutes before the accident, Las Vegas Paving workers were situating the beams.
"How or why they would go into a construction zone at that speed; I don't know what they were thinking," Newcome said. "Minutes earlier we had 10 to 12 guys there. It could have been even more horrific."
That's the concern, motorists not paying attention.
The concrete barriers separating daytime workers from traffic are designed to budge two feet if a car hits them. The company could pin them down so they wouldn't move at all, but that would do more damage to vehicles and potentially the drivers. It's a delicate balance.
Maybe it is a "boy who cried wolf" problem. We see seas of orange cones and warnings that we will be hit with doubled fines if we speed through construction zones. In many cases, there are no workers or even signs that construction is under way, giving many the impression it is simply a speed trap.
Maybe we don't take these zones seriously anymore. Newcome gets that.
"That frustrates us. If you have signs conveying the wrong message, it's problematic," Newcome said. "We are being way more sensitive to that. You can't send the wrong message if you want people to react."
The company is not allowed to close lanes until 9 p.m., and they must reopen by 5 a.m. Las Vegas Paving is dinged $2,500 every 15 minutes it is tardy. This might be convenient for commuters, but it demands that motorists pay attention because, as Newcome puts it, "What you saw a week ago at midnight might not be the same as it is tonight at midnight."
The limitations on lane restrictions were not a requirement on the I-15 north project, where lane closures protected workers. They will become more difficult to work around as crews begin to construct bridges across the busiest freeway in the valley.
Crews are preparing to build the Sunset Road bridge across I-15, a span that should be completed by year's end.
After a new east-west route is created with Sunset, the Warm Springs Road bridge will be removed and replaced with a longer six-lane overpass.
On eastbound Blue Diamond, a towering flyover will guide motorists onto northbound I-15.
Newcome and his team are acutely aware of the challenges associated with flying giant steel beams across travel lanes without shutting them down. Most of this work will occur at night, but in some cases, during the day, you might see a Nevada Highway Patrol vehicle maneuvering in front of vehicles and winding back and forth on the freeway. This is done to slow traffic for the project.
This all might seem like another pain in the neck construction endeavor now, but we should realize that it will benefit all of us when it wraps up late next year. In the interim, pay close attention to detour signs and slow down for crew members.
"We are going to be in, on, around and under Interstate 15 for the next year and a half, so just be careful," Newcome said.
After spending a recent morning eight feet away from vehicles traveling at 80 mph and huge tractor-trailers roaring down the freeway, I know I will.
If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.