California funding cut helps interstate traffic move

One of the transportation bugaboos that has long vexed the tourist industry has quietly resolved itself.

People driving south on Interstate 15 in recent months have noticed something missing: slowing down at the Agricultural Inspection Station at Yermo so inspectors could give their cars a quick visual once-over before waving them on their way, or coming to a full stop to answer a question about whether they are carrying any fruits and vegetables.

Although the process itself may rate as little more than a nuisance, it can cause miles-long traffic backups, particularly on Sundays and holidays as people head back to Southern California after their Las Vegas flings. Visitor industry leaders have long fretted that the congestion and delays might give people incentive to go somewhere else.

However, on one Sunday evening in September, the line of cars was longer at Primm, where I-15 narrows from three to two lanes southbound, than at Yermo. Then, as has happened frequently in recent months, no inspectors from the California Food and Agriculture Department manned the car lanes and instead concentrated their efforts on the commercial truck traffic. This has turned out to be the norm and not an isolated example.

“There has been a reduction in funding for the entire state (inspection) program,” department spokesman Steve Lyle said. “As a result, staffing is down.”

He did not have specifics for Yermo. But the funding for the 16 stations that California has built on key highways has been cut from $21 million in fiscal 2011 to $17 million in the current year. That has resulted in about a one-third cut in the number of inspectors, who try to nab at the state line bug-infested plants that could wreak havoc on California’s huge agricultural industry.

“We are, as staffing permits, stopping cars,” Lyle said. “If staffing does not permit, we are not stopping cars. We have prioritized commercial vehicles, which carry a lot more cargo.”

Many locals have long regarded the program as useless and place a priority on getting rid of it completely.

Nevertheless, the state will break ground in December on a new station, about five miles south of Primm, to house the California Highway Patrol’s vehicle inspection team.

A new bug station, after five decades at Yermo, about 140 miles from the Strip, would follow in about three years should the funding fall into place.

Yermo was built for a capacity of about 1 million vehicles a year; in 2012, the total was about 6.5 million.

At the foot of Cajon Pass, a major rebuilding of the Devore interchange where Interstate 15 and 215 split has resulted in alternating lane and ramp closings at night.

The $324 million project, launched during the summer and due for completion in mid-2016, will try to untangle what has been rated one of the country’s worst traffic bottlenecks. More than 50 million vehicles pass through there every year, with many on their way to Las Vegas from all parts of Southern California, sometimes leading to lines as long as five miles.

The solution drawn up by the California Transportation Department is one new lane in each direction, 17 bridges, two miles of truck bypass lanes and a new connector.

If the engineers turn out to be right, this will lead to smoother drives for the nearly 140 million vehicles a year projected to drive through in 2040.

A new purpose for McCarran International Airport’s old Terminal 2 is not in line to take off.

As part of its move from Concourse D to A last month, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air parks all its planes not in service on the apron next to the former international facility, which has remained closed since Terminal 3 opened in June 2012. The new jet parking lot, known as Holding Pad 8, has supplanted the former spot between the passenger terminal and the Marnell Air Cargo Center.

According to McCarran spokeswoman Christine Crews, Allegiant has leased part of what was once a screening building next to Terminal 2 for light maintenance and storage. The main building, however, remains fenced off and locked.

That will not change until the obsolete terminal is demolished, but the timing and method still have not been decided.

Former Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker once floated the idea of having a Hollywood production company pay to blow it up in return for the hard-to-duplicate footage, much like the 1995 implosion of the Landmark Hotel wound up in the movie, “Mars Attacks!”

That may not work out, either.

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