Boulder City residents are fairly confident the city that built Hoover Dam will not become a ghost town when the Interstate 11 bypass opens this week.
Some businesspeople are nervous that thousands of customers won’t find their way to Boulder City streets. Others are happy that the regular weekend traffic jams will soon go away.
An estimated 34,000 vehicles use the existing U.S. Highway 93 route through the city.
“It literally was a 50-50 split” between people who favored or disliked the new 15-mile stretch of highway, which opens Thursday, Boulder City Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Lagan said.
The Nevada Department of Transportation says the new road will trim 30 minutes of drive time between Las Vegas and the Arizona border if travelers bypass Boulder City. A group of residents and businesspeople has been working to ensure that travelers will have a reason not to.
“You can sit around and be concerned and woe is me and just wait for the dark cloud to rain on you, or you can say, ‘OK, it’s happening. We don’t have a choice now. Let’s pick up our stuff and turn it into a real opportunity for us to take action,’ ” Lagan said.
One of the early doubters who is now committed to being positive is Cindy Ford, owner of Southwest Diner, a popular eatery that serves homemade breakfasts, sandwiches and Mexican food seven days a week. She has 30 employees and room for about 40 customers.
Her loyal local clientele will stay with her, but she wonders how many potential customers she will lose among those who take the faster route.
“I’ve seen towns that have been bypassed and they die. But thankfully, this is more of a destination,” Ford said amid the clatter of dishes and silverware.
When it became clear that the state and federal governments were going to proceed with the $318 million freeway project linking Henderson to the Pat Tillman-Mike O’Callaghan Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River, a group of residents and businesspeople went to work developing additional tourism amenities.
Boulder City will always be known as the home of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, but in recent years it has grown as a destination for outdoor adventure. Bike and hiking trails abound around town. The Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon zipline complex opened a few years ago, and the Boulder City Municipal Airport is a hub for scenic air tours over the Grand Canyon as well as a base for a thriving skydiving business.
The city is also working to benefit from its roots.
Like the city of Williams, Arizona, on Route 66, bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1984, Boulder City is looking to show off its history with a refurbished railroad line and a rail museum.
Williams helped rebuild a rail line running to the Grand Canyon. Boulder City, meanwhile, is working to bring back a line between Boulder City and Henderson along the route that once moved equipment, materials and supplies for the dam’s construction.
In December, Nevada’s Division of Museums and History unveiled a $40 million plan to turn the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City into a tourism attraction that would lessen the sting of the I-11 bypass.
Peter Barton, administrator of the division, told the Nevada Commission on Tourism that he will go to the Legislature in 2019 for seed money to expand the museum, which draws about 40,000 people a year.
When the state Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada embarked on the highway construction project, they included funds for a railroad bridge over the freeway near Railroad Pass.
Plans call for a linear park and rail platform in Boulder City. Lagan said a citizens group is raising money to develop a public-private partnership that would fund at least half of the work to complete the train attraction in Boulder City and on the southern end at Henderson’s Water Street District and near the Fiesta Henderson casino.
Planners envision train rides and dinner and wine-tasting trips along the route, which includes views of the entire Las Vegas Valley.
Wait and see
While bolstering Boulder City’s tourism image should help businesses like Southwest Diner, the estimated 34 percent reduction in traffic will also help businesses like Auto Specialists, owned by Paul and Lee Hagen.
“I do think that we have to remain optimistic about the impact of what (the bypass) is going to do for Boulder because there’s a fair amount of negativism, and if we all just take the negative route, it’s not going to help us get anywhere,” Lee Hagen said.
Much of the clientele at the auto repair shop, with 13 employees serving 30 to 50 customers a day, comes from Las Vegas and Henderson. Hagen said customers often call the shop to inquire about the traffic before making a decision about whether to get their cars serviced.
It occurred to Hagen that people would make similar decisions about whether to go to dinner, visit an antique store or make a recreational trip.
“They’d say, ‘Yeah, we could go to the lake, but the traffic is going to be really bad, so forget it. We’re not going to go,’” she said.
Hagen said the bypass also is driving some business decisions.
“Another thing I’m hearing is that there are people who have thought about or considered having a business in Boulder, but definitely in the last year, people that I know have been putting things on hold because everybody is sitting back and seeing what this bypass does,” she said.
One business that didn’t let the Boulder City bypass become a roadblock could turn out to be an economic development success story for the community.
Boulder City Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Lagan said the recently opened Medolac Laboratories relocated from Oregon to take up residence at a building that formerly housed a supermarket.
Co-founders Elena Medo and her daughter, Adrianne Weir, built Medolac, a public benefit corporation that processes milk from women to nourish premature and sick infants.
The lab recently opened in the center of town and soon will have fewer worries about traffic when delivering products for international distribution.