July 4, 2016 - 5:55 am
Many valley residents are aware of Project Neon, the massive restructuring of the highways and streets near the intersection of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95, but it seems many know only that it will rearrange the Spaghetti Bowl again, and they suspect it will make the commute through the area a nightmare for years to come. The people working on the project want to let residents know that it won’t be as bad as many fear.
“One thing we had in mind from the start was how to minimize the traffic impact on the community,” said Dale Keller, the project manager for Project Neon with the Nevada Department of Transportation. “One thing that we did was to highly incentivise the contractor (Kiewit Infrastructure West) to get in and out of I-15 and U.S. 95 quickly.”
The contractor, which is handling both design and construction, is set to receive an incentive package of more than $20 million if certain conditions are met.
The project is more than halfway through its first year, and the Nevada Department of Transportation recently had an open house event at its offices in a trailer at 320 Wall St. to explain the upcoming changes. Visitors were invited to peruse maps, talk with project staff members and take a virtual reality tour of the project.
“This is an amazing way to see what it’s going to look like when it’s all done,” said Tony Illia, a public information officer for the department.
Visitors donned goggles, which activated a virtual reality tour north on I-15, through the Spaghetti Bowl, north on U.S. 95 and turning just past Martin Luther King Boulevard and returning to where the “trip” started. The view inside the goggles was from the passenger seat of a helicopter. As the viewer turns his head, the image followed in any direction, allowing people to pick out their new routes through the interchange when the project is completed in what the staff estimates will be around July 2019.
“Anyone can go in during business hours to see the maps and, if they choose, take the virtual reality tour,” said Adrienne Packer, a public information officer for the department. “We’re open Saturdays and weekdays.”
The project is being done in phases and is in the end of acquisition and demolition of homes, businesses and other structures in the path of the construction. Another phase is slated to begin soon at the intersection of Charleston Boulevard and Grand Central Parkway, which will be part of one of the most complex changes the project is set to bring.
For many years, Western Avenue has been blocked off at its northern end, keeping it from it from connecting to Charleston Boulevard. Plans call for shifting the end of Western Avenue east and pushing it through to meet Grand Central Parkway in a four-way intersection. A bridge over the railway lines is set to connect Industrial Road to Western Avenue.
“It will create several more north/south local access routes in the area,” Keller said. “It will allow more access for special events.”
The section of Wall Street that runs under I-15 will be closed off and a new tunnel to the south, dubbed the Neon Gateway, will create new highway entrances.
Currently, the entrances and exits between Charleston Boulevard and I-15 are confusing to many and spread around several other streets. Project Neon is set to streamline that by moving the exits and getting rid of one of the valley’s most problematic exits, the one from southbound I-15 to Charleston Boulevard, which ends at a traffic light on Martin Luther King Boulevard and can often leave drivers hung up for a cycle or two as they navigate the short section of road before the next light on Charleston. Iron Horse Court, the loop road off of Grand Central Parkway, will no longer be part of the highway entrance but will remain as a loop for buses to turn around and access for local businesses.
All of the changes surrounding the Neon Gateway make the other Project Neon changes seem simple. A new nearly half-mile flyover is planned that will connect the high-occupancy vehicle lanes of I-15 to the HOV lanes of U.S. 95, making travel from Summerlin and other neighborhoods in the northwest to the Strip and back quicker and simpler. The flyover is set to be two lanes in both directions with enough shoulder room to pull over in case of emergency.
The project is also set to add Active Traffic management signs, full-color high-resolution signs that are set to display real-time traffic information to motorists about alternate routes, incidents and traffic restrictions. The signs are set to be added on the approach to the Spaghetti Bowl.
The current entrance to I-15 from southbound Martin Luther King Boulevard goes into the middle of the off-ramp from U.S. 95.
“If you take a good look at the walls there, they’re all black from tires rubbing against it,” Keller said. “It’s a real mess.”
The new entrance will skip U.S. 95 and enter on I-15 farther south, eliminating the conflict of vehicles entering there and vehicles exiting at Charleston. By and large, the changes will add more lanes and eliminate traffic conflicts with weaving flyovers that will separate exiting and entering traffic.
“We’re working from the outside in,” Keller said. “The project has been in planning for more than five years. We anticipate some slowdowns and backups, particularly during the p.m. commute, but we hope to keep it to a minimum. At the end of the project, we should have much better traffic flow.”
The Project Neon office is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at 320 Wall St. Visit ndotprojectneon.com or call 702-293-6366.
To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-380-4532.