I-15 widening project gets state go-ahead

CARSON CITY – After years of considering an experimental public-private partnership to build a massive Interstate 15 widening and improvement project in Las Vegas, the state Transportation Board instead opted Monday to use a more traditional construction method for Project Neon.

The state Department of Transportation changed its recommendation to the board, saying that traditional bonding to make the improvements between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl is the best way to move forward rather than using the untested “P3” method.

The board voted unanimously to move forward with a “design-build” project, where the work of planning and constructing the improvements will be handled by one firm. The actual construction cost is estimated at more than $400 million. When all costs are tallied, including right-of-way acquisition, the project will reach $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion.

The project as now proposed will combine multiple phases to finish the work by 2020, about the same as under the P-3 method.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the project is essential for Southern Nevada and the state as a whole.

“We can’t wait any longer,” he said. ‘This is not an ‘if’ proposition. This is the biggest decision this board will make in the history of Nevada when it comes to the construction of a road project.”

While the P3 concept was embraced initially, the ground has shifted in the past two years, Sandoval said.

“We do get the best of all worlds in the case,” he said. “We get a project built and we are able to afford it and continue these other projects that we do across the state of Nevada.”

Board member Tom Skancke of Las Vegas said the decision is fiscally responsible and is critical both to the Southern Nevada and regional economy.

“This is a gap that needs to be fixed,” he said.

As part of the process, the board also voted to move forward with the process of issuing bonds in the amount of $564 million to pay the costs of design and construction of Project Neon.

Members of the board discussed ways of limiting the costs of purchasing the right-of-way needed for the project by setting a specific budget amount. That discussion will be taken up at a future meeting of the board.

There had been concerns expressed about the P3 concept by state lawmakers, including the fact that the consortium building the project would retain control of the section of freeway for 35 years for purposes of operation and maintenance.

NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon said the design-build method will allow the agency to retain control over the costs of maintaining the freeway.

“I think that the board was very clear that they wanted to make sure the project is affordable,” he said. “We’ve shown with this delivery method it is affordable.”

NDOT Deputy Director Bill Hoffman said the project will improve safety and the state economy as commerce moves more quickly through the congested area. The section of freeway sees 250,000 to 270,000 vehicles a day with 1,000 crashes a year, he said.

“This is economics,” Hoffman said. “This is safety. We can move this section of I-15 into the 21st century.”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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