Opening of Rainbow Curve flyover could spell development for Summerlin West

If you’ve been watching that massive area of construction along the eastern end of Summerlin Parkway, which some folks have referred to as the Las Vegas "bridge to nowhere," well, there is an end in sight.

Moreover, it may all lead to a positive somewhere. That’s because the construction project could eventually serve as a major doorway to the development of thousands of acres in Summerlin West.

They’ll be cutting the ribbon any day now for the new bridge atop the intersection known as the Rainbow Curve, where U.S. Highway 95 joins with Summerlin Parkway. And the flyover bridge will add something significantly more than just a growing entanglement of roadways forming another Spaghetti Bowl.

It all began several years ago with plans for a $26 million expenditure that some foresaw as folly, a frivolous undertaking and a boondoggle of sorts. The reason was that 90 percent of the amount represented a federal grant. But there was a catch, in that the appropriation was dedicated for a specific purpose —- to extend the high-occupancy vehicle lane along U.S. Highway 95 with a flyover HOV bridge onto Summerlin Parkway.

Work on the bridge began last spring. One reason it took a while for the construction to start is that Summerlin Parkway does not have an HOV lane to receive high-occupancy vehicle traffic from U.S. Highway 95, nor is an HOV lane planned for the six-mile stretch of Summerlin Parkway at any time in the immediate future, due to financial constraints.

In truth, if the city of Las Vegas, which owns Summerlin Parkway, had the spare $50 million to $60 million needed to widen the roadway, undoubtedly it could produce a list of higher priorities.

So, the question boiled down to this: what to do about the dedicated federal appropriation? After all, that kind of money doesn’t sit idle in Washington for very long, and Nevada officials were aware of the fact that if they didn’t use it, they would lose it.

The state ultimately provided the 10 percent matching funds for the bridge, and the Nevada Department of Transportation was charged with designing and managing the venture.

But the project consists of more than just a bridge. It includes road extensions and exit ramps. Furthermore, it is no longer viewed as folly, or frivolous, or a boondoggle. In fact, what you will see upon completion shortly —- of what was once characterized in jest as Las Vegas’ "bridge to nowhere" —- is a major thrust toward the eventual development of the westerly section of Summerlin.

As it turned out, you don’t just build a bridge of such dimension without providing the proper accoutrements, in this case the necessary extended roadways. The fact that Summerlin Parkway doesn’t have HOV lanes in either direction means that sufficient widening of portions of the parkway, as part of the overall project, was critical to allow vehicles using the bridge to safely negotiate their way into general-use lanes.

"There’s a widening of westbound Summerlin Parkway to a point about 900 feet beyond the Buffalo Drive overpass," said Mike Janssen, assistant city traffic engineer. "That means the first exit for cars coming off the HOV lane bridge, instead of using Buffalo Drive, will have to use a new off-ramp at Durango Drive. And they’ll get there by way of a new partial lane along Summerlin Parkway."

Janssen said the new lane, combined with the bridge ramp, will add about a half-mile of new width to Summerlin Parkway. Similarly, a new portion of a lane going eastbound will also lead HOV traffic onto the bridge.

"It’s necessary that we have enough new road on both sides to allow drivers to safely merge onto and from the flyover," Janssen said.

So what does this all mean for the future development of Summerlin West?

"There’s no question that at some point in the future, the widening of all of Summerlin Parkway from two to four lanes, with HOV lanes in both directions, will materialize," Janssen said. "This project could well be the start. Maybe five years from now, maybe 10 years. We have sufficient median space for widening.

"That will take Summerlin Parkway beyond its present westerly end, at (the Las Vegas Beltway) and well into Summerlin West," Janssen added.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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