Something is missing from the state transportation department's photograph of bumper-to-bumper traffic outside Boulder City, the backup for which commercial tractor-trailers are being blamed.
The string of traffic winding down U.S. Highway 93 toward the Hoover Dam bypass bridge includes about 50 vehicles.
None of them are tractor-trailers.
Transportation officials are pointing at the return of the trucks, banned from Hoover Dam since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, for the awful mess that has trapped some Boulder City residents in their neighborhoods.
They are urging the Federal Highway Administration to once again prohibit big rigs from the route and instead force them to travel through Laughlin and Bullhead City, Ariz.
But truckers aren't really to blame for the congestion and delays. State traffic engineers should have anticipated the problem and widened portions of U.S. Highway 93, which narrows to one lane in each direction, before the Hoover Dam bypass bridge opened in October.
They didn't, and now a five-mile stretch of highway in the southernmost part of the state could adversely affect the cost of products throughout the state of Nevada. As if soaring gasoline prices weren't killing us enough as consumers.
The extra 45 minutes to an hour it takes to meander on down to Laughlin might not seem like a big deal to anyone except trucking companies, but we will understand that it is when bloating diesel fuel costs are eventually passed along to us.
"Any time you throw up a road block, it doesn't matter what it is, you're going to add to costs," said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. "Fuel has gone up dramatically. It has caught up to or passed labor as the No. 1 expense."
Doubters might argue that trucks used the Laughlin route for nine years after the terrorist attacks and nobody complained about the price of a cantaloupe skyrocketing. But fuel costs have, for the most part, remained reasonable during that time period and the economy in this state was healthy.
The scenario has changed.
Grades in and out of Laughlin are steeper than the straight shot across the Colorado River on the bypass bridge, meaning that trucks burn fuel faster. Drivers are paid by the mile, so that extra distance will cost the trucking company.
The possible diversion won't be the sole reason for the increase in product prices, but it is viewed by some in the industry as the last straw.
Paul Enos, chief executive officer of the Nevada Transport Association, spends most of his time these days in Carson City, fending off proposed legislation that potentially could continue to pile on expenditures for trucking outfits.
One proposed state Senate bill would up the requirement to use biodiesel in fuel from 5 percent to 10 percent. If passed, warranties on trucks could be voided because the increase in biodiesel is believed to damage engines. That, combined with the higher cost of biodiesel fuel, will hurt truckers financially, Enos said.
The Legislature is also considering a bill that would ban triple-trailer trucks, which would mean it would take additional trips or trucks to move freight.
When coupled with the longer drive through Laughlin, perhaps the most damaging legislation proposed is a federal government bill that would reduce the number of hours truckers can drive in a shift from 11 to 10.
"If you're adding on 45 minutes to go through Bullhead City each way, that absolutely has an impact on productivity of those drivers and those trucks and whether they will get a load delivered on time," Enos said. "When you do things like change routes and change the number of hours a driver can be behind the wheel, there is a ripple effect that is passed down to customers who use the products that trucks move."
In Nevada, about 93 percent of the products imported are hauled in by trucks, Enos said.
Earlier this year, Boulder City and Bullhead City fought over the trucks. Bullhead officials were happy to forfeit the truck traffic after the $240 million bypass bridge was opened. After all, the primary reason the bridge was built was to improve commerce.
While some Boulder City residents pinned blame on poor signage and a rush of tourists going to visit the dam and view the bridge, transportation folks are pointing at the trucks.
In January, local transportation officials said the traffic problems in Boulder City created a state of emergency and vowed to seek assistance from the highway administration. That was four months ago, and an application has yet to be filed with the federal agency.
Nevada Department of Transportation representatives said Thursday they plan to request that trucks temporarily be diverted through Laughlin while crews widen U.S. Highway 93. Work is set to begin in July and be completed in time to accommodate the crush of travelers during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Even if the request is pitched as a temporary solution, the highway administration and local transportation officials will have to contend with trucking representatives.
"We still absolutely have some problems with that," Enos said.
It's easy to pick on the truckers, but judging by the Department of Transportation photo, even if Boulder City succeeds in booting the trucks south, the congestion will continue until that weekend 2l give thanks.
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