The 2.5-mile section of Interstate 11 in Henderson that opened Aug. 16 is the first installment of construction of a four-lane freeway that will be part of a major thoroughfare connecting the U.S., Mexico and Canada. But its completion hasn’t alleviated headaches for those trying to get to Railroad Pass.
To get to the casino, drivers heading south on U.S. Highway 93 have to pass it , turn around a mile away at the interchange where U.S. 93 and U.S. Highway 95 split, then head back.
“It’s going to be real nice when it’s done,” said casino regular Michael Martorano of Boulder City. “But right now it’s an absolute pain.”
Martorano and his father, BJ, sat in the casino’s sports lounge the day following the opening on the new section of interstate. BJ Martorano lives in Henderson and has been coming to the casino for 40 years. Nowadays his son picks him up, and they drive to Railroad Pass together.
“The people that come through here every day know where they’re supposed to go,” Michael Martorano said. “But the people who don’t come through here every day don’t know which lane to go in.” He said it’s caused lane-change problems that could be dangerous.
The project is expected to link Phoenix and Las Vegas, the only two cities in the nation with populations of over 1 million that aren’t connected by an interstate, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.
While road construction has been confusing for some and anxiety-inducing for others, Railroad Pass owner Joe DeSimone said it hasn’t affected business. In fact, with the anticipated opening of a $10 million travel center at Railroad Pass by the end of the year, DeSimone anticipates an increase in traffic.
“I think we’ve worked well with Nevada Department of Transportation to minimize travelers’ discomfort or challenges,” DeSimone said. “There’s a number of adjustments we’re making. Naturally we can’t have the positive change without the associated upfront costs.”
Since construction started on the interstate in May, there have been fewer trucks on the property, DeSimone said. “When the truck stop opens to the traveling public, the travelers will become a bigger percentage (of casino visitors),” he said.
Construction began in January on the Railroad Pass Travel Center; it will have a truck stop, a Chevrongas station, an 8,000-square-foot convenience store with truckers’ facilities, a Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, a truck scale and propane.
DeSimone said he had been thinking about adding a travel center after he purchased the property in 2014. An amendment to Henderson’s zoning map allowing its construction was made in July 2016.
“Our bread and butter is locals, especially people from Henderson and Boulder City,” DeSimone said. “So we keep track of what the travelers are doing and what the locals like and do, and we keep a balance between that.”
DeSimone said the Transportation Department has communicated with the casino on the project status and updates, which has made it easier to plan.
“What’s really positive about it is that we’ve been able to maintain a customer base even though parking has been moved around and inconsistent,” DeSimone said. “We look forward to increased business when I-11 opens both ways.”
Phase 2 of the I-11 project is the responsibility of the Regional Transportation Commission. It will add about 12.5 miles of interstate, bypassing Boulder City as it heads toward Hoover Dam. It is expected to open in June.
“Changes are good,” said BJ Martorano, as he sipped on a beer and eyed the Cubs game on the lounge TV. “… It’s surely going to help Boulder City. … People just gotta relax.”
By the numbers:
$83 million: Cost of the first phase of the interstate project.
8 million: Cubic yards of dirt excavated for the first phase.
20,000: Cactuses that NDOT is replanting after displacing the flora during excavation.
4,000: Jobs, both direct and indirect, that the project is estimated to create.
1,200: Feet of retaining wall added along the new section of road.
15: Miles of new freeway after the first phase of Interstate-11 is complete.
5: Miles of fencing installed to protect the desert tortoise.
Regional Transportation Department and Nevada Department of Transportation