Moving trucks left isn't quite right

There is an idea that's enormously popular among Las Vegas transplants: Get commercial vehicles out of the far-left lane on our freeways.

It's an idea that is floated by folks who move here from all over the nation, but especially California, where commercial vehicles are banned from the inside lane.

Could it happen here? Of course.

Will it? I'm not so sure.

The Nevada Department of Transportation has studied moving trucks out of our freeway's left lanes, said assistant director for planning Kent Cooper. And it poses a whole bunch of problems.

Just like most sedans and SUVs, the majority of the tractor trailers rumbling through Las Vegas also stop here, either for deliveries or for a rest.

Las Vegas is a resting point for many truckers carrying loads from the ports in Long Beach, Calif., to their final destinations in the West and Northwest.

Other trucks are dropping off loads here in the valley to feed our ever-growing service economy.

Of course, not every truck is looking to jump on and off the freeway, and those passing through will most likely steer left, Cooper said.

By removing lane options from them, more trucks would clog the right lanes, making it more difficult for vehicles to get on and off the highway.

"The freeway would be functioning in a worse fashion under this scenario than if you let them choose whatever lane they wanted," Cooper said.

Cooper concedes the general driving public might move up and down the freeway quicker in a left lane without trucks, but "when they got to their exit they would find a much more congested freeway."

"The current congestion or delays on the freeways are from the exits and entrances and not from the through movement," he said.

It would make more sense to designate car-only lanes on wider freeways, he said.

In January, the state Transportation Board approved a $35 million project that would create a fifth lane in both directions on a 5.5-mile stretch of Interstate 15, from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road. The plan is to have the express lanes up and running by summer 2009.

But the two left lanes of the interstate will be paired to create express lanes in both directions and will be separated from the other three interstate lanes by short markers, called "candlesticks."

State transportation officials 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.

It's not official yet, but the prevailing opinion is to allow trucks to use the express lanes.

The intention is to get trucks to travel through Las Vegas more quickly, Cooper said.

Cooper also points out that while drivers like to complain about getting stuck behind slow-moving trucks, most big commercial trucks travel as quickly as cars on the road.

"It is rare you see trucks going at a slow speed," Cooper said.

It's other large vehicles, like motor homes or travel trailers that cause lower speeds, he said.

Still, Cooper thinks we might see a law passed in the next few legislative sessions creating truck-only lanes.

The idea has already been put out there by Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who introduced a bill during the 2007 state legislative session.

"This is an issue for a lot of people, many coming from areas where this rule already exists," Denis told me.

His original idea was a complete ban from the left lane on freeways and some roads, including I-15 and Charleston Boulevard.

But after he talked it over with transportation officials and lobbyists, the bill was altered. The final version, which passed, ordered that signs advising truckers to get out of the left lane be put up on freeways like I-15 where there are four or five lanes.

"It would not cost us a lot of money (to put the signs up), and if it helps traffic move along," Denis said, it would be a win-win.

A year later, the signs still haven't been put up.

Denis said he plans to revisit the issue in the 2009 session, since his compromise has seemingly been overlooked.

"I wanted to see where we went with it and see if anything gets done," he said. "If they don't do anything, it's going to be" brought up again.

Cooper said recent construction projects on U.S. Highway 95 and I-15 have deterred placement of the signs, but he said the plan is to put up the signs around January 2009.

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