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Red Rock scenic drive set for improvements

Input is being taken from the public on how best to address Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area’s infrastructure needs. A Feb. 6 meeting alerted residents about upcoming projects, such as possibly repaving the Scenic Loop Drive.

“Probably the biggest project is the Scenic Loop, to address public safety,” said Mark Spencer, Bureau of Land Management field manager. “The loop is fairly old in design and needs a lot of improvements because of (heavy use). We received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. And we’re going to work with the public on some options. It could be better pavement, better signage, widening it possibly, adding some parking.”

He said the grant was for $14.6 million.

The loop’s pavement was laid about 40 years ago and has seen patchwork repairs and at least one resurfacing since then. That resurfacing was of a “chip and seal” variety and resulted in loose gravel spewing onto the sensitive vegetation along the route and decreasing the pavement’s friction component, a hazard for motorcycles.

BLM engineer Chad Vellinga said a method would need to be approved that could handle the extremes of heat and cold, as well as moisture and high traffic volume. He suggested the pavement could be removed, ground up and mixed with other components to surface the road.

Whatever choices were made, “We’ll take a ‘tread lightly’ approach,” he said, “which follows the ‘leave it better than you found it’ (school of thought).”

Other possible improvements include repaving the parking lot at the visitors center, expanding Willow Springs’ parking lot, reconfiguring the Ice Box Canyon parking lot and having a portion of the loop handle two-way traffic. Signage and safety suggestions, such as pavement striping to indicate a bicycle lane, also are being considered.

In advance of the meeting, canyon visitors were approached and asked what they thought of the loop.

“It would help if it was wider,” said L. Lincoln, a tour guide with Casino Travel & Tours.

George McDonald, a former hike leader who now volunteers at the visitors center information desk, said, “I think the best idea is to have everybody ride buses like they do at Zion.”

He further suggested that a deal could be worked out with the Red Rock Resort to use its parking facilities and have park visitors board tour buses there.

Maria and Steve, who withheld their last names, said they visit Red Rock Canyon about twice a month. Steve said he’d like to see shoulders added to the road. Maria said she hoped there wouldn’t be many pull-off areas added, as people already “wander off the trails and and meander around.”

Two areas under scrutiny are the low-lying Red Rock and Sandstone washes. They can include a 4-foot vertical drop, which develops along the downstream headwall when flow overtops the ford and scours away backfill. The depth of the flow across the ford typically exceeds 6 inches. In 2013, 50 vehicles were stranded when the area flooded.

“If a vehicle crossed the water, and if it were to catch that edge, not only will they flip on their side, they’ll actually roll over,” Vellinga said.

Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds are being used for the design of the proposed Sandstone Wash improvements. The highway administration is providing construction funds. Sandstone Wash is Phase One of the proposed loop improvements. Preliminary construction estimates for the Sandstone low-water crossing will be based on the completed design. Construction is expected to start this fall.

The design for the other proposed improvements for the entire loop will address the remaining washes, surface paving, expanded parking lots, etc., based on available funding.

In mid-January, the BLM sold 160 acres under the land management act, resulting in $23.8 million, which will be used to fund some of the proposed projects.

Near Red Rock Canyon, the campground is also in line to see improvements. Planned projects include digging a new well, using solar power to pump it to locations, erecting a shade structure for recreational vehicles and adding vault toilets. The Red Rock Fire Station is set to get upgrades in water, sewer and communication.

A grid power connection is expected to be installed underground. It will do away with the plethora of lead acid batteries and rely more on photoelectric power. It’s expected to generate more power than needed at Red Rock, so the extra can be sold to NV Energy. That project is expected to start in May and be completed by Sept. 30. The total approved amount for these projects is $4.3 million, but the cost may be less. The funding will come from the land management act.

A new well for the visitors center, with water pumped through 4-inch diameter pipes, also is planned. Like the loop, the current well was constructed roughly 40 years ago. Inspections show the iron is rusted, and the well fills with sand and debris, which plugs the toilets. Estimated cost is $340,000. It will be paid for through Red Rock Canyon’s deferred maintenance fund.

“We have a great chance of funding all the projects,” said Robbie McAboy, BLM assistant field manager. “My personal top priority is to make some improvements along (the loop). …There are places we can maximize parking to reduce congestion, things we can do to assist with traffic flow. We see the traffic back up along (the loop) for Black Friday, for Thanksgiving weekend. In January, when the weather was so nice, you could see the cars backed up along (the route).”

More meetings will be announced, and input also can given by emailing lvfoweb@blm.gov.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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