Herb Jaffe: Clogged parkway reflects Summerlin’s rapid growth

Take a good look at the burst of new homes, shopping centers and restaurants and the crush of new folks coming from every direction and you’ll realize it’s no wonder that Summerlin has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Southwest.

It’s also no wonder that Summerlin Parkway, which was built with the intention of helping to develop Summerlin, then to serve the needs of a population influx, has succeeded but is now struggling to keep pace with the community’s growth.

Construction cones and barrels have been an integral part of the parkway’s landscape for more than a year, creating inconveniences, especially during peak hours. But think of it this way: The disruptions are necessary while the city works to improve safety and traffic flow along the 5.3-mile thoroughfare that cuts through the heart of Summerlin.

However, another factor has surfaced: the vastly increased volume of new traffic in a relatively short time. Much of it has come from the rash of new housing since the end of the recession.

“We were expecting this growth,” said traffic engineer Mike Janssen, who is also deputy director and transportation manager in the Las Vegas Department of Public Works. “That’s why almost three years ago we initiated a three-phase, $13 million project in traffic safety and capacity improvements along the Summerlin Parkway corridor.”

But a traffic survey conducted recently by Janssen’s staff has shown some startling increases in volume during those same three years. For example, just west of U.S. 95, where traffic enters Summerlin Parkway, “we’re seeing about 113,000 vehicles per day, which is an increase of close to 12 percent in three years,” Janssen said.

Heading west on the parkway, daily volume of 107,000 vehicles at a point just east of Durango Drive represents an increase of almost 11.5 percent since 2014.

“But the really big changes are occurring as you drive further west along Summerlin Parkway,” Janssen continued.

In pointing to the sector of road just west of Town Center Drive, Janssen said the survey showed a whopping increase in traffic of 54 percent in just three years, from 41,000 vehicles per day to 63,000.

“So clearly, we are seeing a lot more traffic on this segment of the parkway,” Janssen noted. “And it’s due in large part to all of the new housing that’s being developed west of the 215, the new Downtown Summerlin shopping area and additional retail outlets along the Rampart corridor, like Tivoli Village and new stores in Boca Park.”

Recognizing how vital the parkway is to the continued growth of Summerlin, Janssen outlined some of the city’s plans for easing the flow of traffic. The heaviest concentration of parkway construction involves the addition of auxiliary lanes, which in essence serves as a widening of the parkway, but only along key traffic sectors.

“One of the improvements in our phase three parkway project will provide auxiliary lanes between the Town Center and Rampart on/off ramps, which will be a huge improvement along that segment of the parkway,” Janssen said. Another auxiliary lane is planned for the section between Town Center and Anasazi, to ease a heavily increased flow of traffic on and off the parkway.

Phase three of the improvement plan, an estimated $6.5 million project, is expected to begin late this summer “and will add a variety of additional safety and capacity improvements to Summerlin Parkway, between 215 and Buffalo,” he noted.

Janssen added that the recent start of construction of Reverence, a Pulte Homes community of 920 houses on 300 acres at the westernmost end of Summerlin Parkway, will also necessitate extending the road by an estimated quarter of a mile.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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