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Playing in traffic: What driving around F1 construction is really like

Traffic is the rare thing that’s universally despised — unless, of course, you’re talking about the movie that delivered Oscars to Steven Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro back in 2001 or the band Steve Winwood played in. They’re fine.

As for the bumper-to-bumper variety, it helped sway opinions of Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix from “oh wow” to “oh no” practically overnight.

The angst began just after April Fool’s Day with the first section of repaving along the 3.8-mile course within the resort corridor, and the discontent has only grown louder with each passing month. That’s why we spent parts of four recent days driving around the affected area for an extremely unscientific look at how bad things really are — actually seeking out traffic jams like those questionable people who chase tornadoes for fun.

First, some general observations.

There was just no easy way to get to Interstate 15 from the east side of the Strip. Tropicana? Not unless you’ve mastered the diverging diamond interchange and are headed south. Flamingo? Closed at Koval. Harmon and a right turn onto the Strip to Flamingo was a possibility, but only outside of rush hours. Between construction and Sphere gawkers, Sands was a pain. Sahara seemed to be absorbing most of the spillover traffic.

The repaving work has elicited nothing but complaints, but the results are so smooth. Driving the adjacent mangled portion of Las Vegas Boulevard from Tropicana to Harmon and back felt like skiing a moguls course.

It’s fair to say that the grandstand construction in front of Bellagio is unsightly, and it definitely blocks most views of the fountains. But the heavy machinery and portable toilets also obscure the spots where all those sacrificed trees once stood.

Here’s some more of what we found:

Las Vegas Boulevard

Leave it to something as all-encompassing as F1 construction to make the Strip seem like a viable route to anywhere.

Sure, there are problems accessing it. Having the right lane closed in front of Bellagio is doing no one any favors. Seventeen cars, a box truck and a city bus were lined up on Flamingo trying to make the right turn onto the Strip at 2:37 p.m. on a recent Thursday — and that was with a green light.

Just getting to that intersection could be a struggle.

From the I-15 offramp, there was a harrowing amount of zigzaggery for 3 p.m. on a Friday. Cars darted left and right with no warning as they tried to merge on top of each other. After a while, if a vehicle wasn’t hanging over into another lane, blocking traffic at a minimum of a 30-degree angle, you’d wonder whether its driver was OK.

Then there was the construction sign stating that the right lane was closed ahead. Fair enough, better stay in the lane beside it. But it turned out that lane wasn’t closed after all, necessitating yet another quick-thinking, hope-the-car-insurance-is-paid-up merge. That one intersection could get your heart racing like few other things this Halloween season.

As for driving the Strip, it took 20 minutes to get from Tropicana to Sahara at 3:09 p.m. last Thursday. After making a U-turn on Sahara at Commercial Center, it was a demoralizing 12-minute wait to get back on the Strip. The return route to Tropicana was a relatively brisk 17 minutes.

At roughly the same time Saturday, Tropicana to Sahara took 26 minutes, and the return took 24. That was during the When We Were Young pop-punk gathering at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, which meant still more lane closures, but at least most of the pedestrians were fun to look at.

Paradise Road

Paradise was anything but, at least anywhere near a rush hour.

Right after that initial trip down the Strip and back, it seemed natural to compare it with the closest north-south corridor now that Koval was blocked, both at Harmon and Flamingo. The resulting nightmare was enough to make a driver re-evaluate every life decision that led him there.

After heading north on Paradise from Tropicana at 4:13 p.m. that Thursday, any sense of forward momentum ground to a halt just past Sands. Traffic backed up so far at the stoplight at Edison Circle, the monorail passed overhead twice before you could clear that intersection, and again just past it, as if mocking the drivers below.

An elderly woman loaded down with grocery bags and pulling a cart shuffled by and apparently made it to her destination before cars began to budge, as she was never seen again.

Surprisingly, in a situation where you’d expect to hear horns blaring like a Tower of Power concert, there wasn’t a single honk as drivers mostly just seemed resigned to their fates.

This being Las Vegas, there was some unrelated construction that closed the left lane from the Renaissance Las Vegas to Convention Center Drive. Once past that obstacle, it was smooth sailing. But even with that burst of normalcy for the final third of the journey, it still took 44 soul-crushing minutes to go 3.4 miles.

Harmon Lane

The journey on Harmon from University Center Drive to the Strip offered up a rare moment of levity when an End Work Zone sign instilled hope that things were about to improve — right up until noticing the Road Work Ahead sign maybe 50 feet later.

The farther you drove, the more of a parking lot Harmon became, and that was with both lanes open during a time of rolling closures. Just eight minutes into the slog, drivers started giving up and turning around at The Signature at MGM Grand.

The surrounding safety fencing and track lighting added to the claustrophobia. And woe to the drivers who created a third lane to rush ahead and turn right, hoping to cut through the Paddock construction zone, just to have to turn around and try to merge back into the gridlock.

At 5:35 p.m. on a Tuesday, 24 minutes after the 1.3-mile trip began, it finally came to an end on the Strip — directly behind a truck hauling orange cones and construction signs.

Two days later, at 12:30 p.m., that route took just eight hassle-free minutes.

Las Vegas Boulevard, Part 2

The closure of the sidewalk in front of Bellagio is creating some unintended consequences for pedestrians.

A couple of jaywalkers from the Horseshoe crossed the Strip to the median, only to realize the sidewalk wasn’t available — so they just walked to Flamingo in the oncoming lanes of traffic.

Anyone who would’ve been using the Bellagio sidewalk was directed across the street, where there’s construction to navigate on foot as Blake Shelton’s Ole Red takes shape in front of the Horseshoe.

The 91-degree heat likely deterred the showgirl impersonators, costumed characters and some of the other Strip rabble that Saturday. But the increased foot traffic still had to contend with street performers, elaborate Instagram photo shoots, a random guy carrying five pizzas and a doomsayer with a megaphone and a double-decker sign warning passersby to “Flee from the wrath to come.”

Flamingo Road

Flamingo was closed in both directions at Koval from Oct. 15-25 so crews could install a temporary vehicular bridge.

If you’d been following construction updates or approached from the north on Paradise, where there was a flashing sign noting the closure just before the Flamingo turn, this wasn’t an issue. If you’d approached that intersection from the south on Paradise, the only sign alerted drivers that Koval would be closed at Harmon from 9 p.m. Oct. 11 to 2 p.m. Oct. 12. This was the opposite direction of Harmon. Also, it was Oct. 17.

Once on Flamingo, you could turn left into the Tuscany parking lot and look for another way out, which didn’t seem to exist. But if you got lost enough in there among the various buildings, there’s a pretty good view of the Sphere.

The only other option was to hang a right and take a detour through Hughes Center that would ultimately take you to Sands and yet another slow-moving construction zone.

Spring Mountain Road/Sands Avenue

The one good thing about the traffic on eastbound Sands? You got a preview of what was to come thanks to eastbound Spring Mountain.

Barrels and cones next to Treasure Island closed the right lane for no discernible reason, forcing vehicles to merge left, only for the obstructions to end and the lane to reopen after maybe 100 feet.

You had to be careful which lane you were in once you crossed the Strip where Spring Mountain becomes Sands. F1 safety barriers and lighting rigs split the two eastbound lanes at the Palazzo garage: one for through traffic, one to get to The Venetian Expo and Koval. The resulting confusion created delays, and vehicles backed up onto the Strip, blocking traffic, as often as not.

As frustrating as it was, it took just 10 minutes to get from the I-15 exit to the Strip, a pretty good result, and only 11 more to pass the Sphere as fans were arriving for a Saturday U2 show.

From there, though, almost as a cruel joke, if you tried to go south, you’d end up in Hughes Center on your way back to the Flamingo blockade, while heading north would have put you right back into the quagmire of Paradise.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on X.

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