Traffic relief will come to Interstate 15 tonight, but northbound truckers will continue to feel the pain of a 77-mile detour for at least another week as Nevada Transportation Department officials prepare to open a flood-damaged portion of the highway.
Department workers and Las Vegas Paving crews have worked around the clock since Tuesday to repair a two-mile stretch of I-15 between mileposts 91 and 93 about 50 miles north of Las Vegas, which was damaged Monday by a devastating 100-year flood.
The area received an estimated 4 inches of rain in two hours, creating a turbulent river in the highway median that undercut the base of the road and wiped out chunks of asphalt on the north- and southbound highway lanes.
Crews expect to open a single lane of north- and southbound traffic on the northbound side of the highway by midnight today, eliminating the need for cars, delivery trucks and recreational vehicles to detour 22 miles on the Valley of Fire State Park highway to get around the damage.
But there won’t be any relief for northbound truckers, who will have to continue to take U.S. Highway 93 north from 20 miles north of Las Vegas through Alamo and Caliente to state Route 319 through Panaca, then Utah Route 56, reconnecting to I-15 at Cedar City.
Department officials are routing trucks that direction because of a steep incline on northbound I-15 at Moapa that bogs down trucks and creates a traffic bottleneck. Southbound trucks will be able to use I-15 and its temporary fix.
The long detour is expected to last another seven to 10 days. Transportation Department Deputy Director Tracy Larkin-Thomason told the Regional Transportation Commission on Thursday that work would continue on flood damage repairs to reopen the southbound lanes as soon as possible.
The lengthy detour on rural roads has been a headache for truckers making runs between Las Vegas and Utah.
Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association, said truckers are restricted by federal regulations from driving more than 11 hours a day and must rest for 10 after an 11-hour shift. He said, on average, the long detour route takes eight hours to complete because of the heavy volume of trucks, the two-lane roads and, in some locations, a series of steep grades and winding roads.
Enos said some companies are resorting to making the run with two drivers, doubling labor costs.
“We’re talking tens of millions of dollars total between added fuel and manpower,” Enos said.
The association estimates that roughly 9,000 trucks use that stretch of I-15 in each direction each day, and it costs $75 to $80 an hour to operate the truck.
When Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency, it allowed some leeway on the number of hours a trucker could drive to deliver essential emergency materials, but Enos said the language of such a declaration doesn’t address a road closure as an emergency.
He said the association might appeal to the department to be allowed to use northbound I-15 during specific restricted hours, but he concurred that the department’s top priority should be to keep the highway safe for all motorists.
“The fear for us is that we be able to deliver medication, prescriptions and food where it’s needed,” Bryan Wachter, a spokesman for the Retail Association of Nevada, said.
More information on the Interstate 15 story as it develops.