Interstate 15 projects pile up

If you’re one of those drivers who wonder whether even more construction can be done on Interstate 15 than is already under way, the answer is yes.

And state transportation officials hope to prove it within the next several months.

Barring any unforeseen neighborhood uprisings or environmental lawsuits, the Nevada Department of Transportation’s next superproject will start in August, with major construction forecast to start as soon as November.

The Interstate 15 South Corridor project will include widening parts of the interstate from state Route 160, also known as Blue Diamond Road, north to Tropicana Avenue with other improvements made to interchanges and bridges in the area.

The project first needs a final blessing from the Nevada Transportation Board, which meets Aug. 9. Before work can start, the board must approve the $246.5 million bid made by the Las Vegas Paving Corp., which won the recommendation of Transportation Department Director Susan Martinovich and her staff on Wednesday. The board is expected to approve the bid.

Once construction starts, about 10 of the 15 miles of I-15, the state’s most heavily traveled road, stretching from Route 160 north to Craig Road will be under construction at one time.

The I-15 South Corridor project comes on the heels of the I-15 Express Lane project, which goes from the Las Vegas Beltway north to Sahara Avenue and is expected to be finished in September.

The I-15 South Corridor project will start even as the I-15 North Widening project, which goes from the Spaghetti Bowl to Craig, continues.

Both of those projects are estimated to be under construction at the same time for at least six months, with the I-15 north project estimated to finish as soon as the summer of 2010 or fall later that year. The I-15 South Corridor project is expected to finish by the end of 2011.

Martinovich recognized there could be public backlash to the expected congestion caused by even more I-15 construction.

"Going through construction is not easy, and we appreciate the public’s patience. When we are done, we will have projects that will last a long time," she said.

While slower speeds and congestion are unavoidable in construction zones, one aspect of the I-15 South Corridor project is that the builders during daytime hours must maintain the same number of lanes in each direction on the interstate as are there now.

Still, Martinovich thinks the timing, at least in terms of costs, couldn’t be better.

Transportation officials once estimated the cost of the project to be about $270 million, about $23.5 million more than the bid made by Las Vegas Paving. Recently, bids on transportation projects have been coming in lower than engineer estimates because of the recession.

The project goals include widening the interstate to four lanes in each direction from Route 160 to the Beltway, construction of a new bridge at Sunset Road over I-15, reconstruction of the Warm Springs Road bridge and adding a collector/distributor road system, which is similar to a frontage road but built to freeway standards.

Widening of the I-15 southbound offramp to Silverado Ranch Boulevard from one lane to two was added to the project.

Once complete, the improvements are meant to handle traffic projections for 2030.

The project is the Transportation Department’s second attempt at a "design-build" scheme, which overlaps the designing and building phases of a construction project in an effort to finish it faster.

The first design-build project is the ongoing $242 million I-15 north widening project, which is viewed by transportation officials as a success.

The state had relied on the design-bid-build method, which follows the mantra that designing a project must be finished before a construction company starts work, with time in between to put the contract out to bid.

Engineers hold that design-build projects can finish about two years faster than design-bid-build projects.

Las Vegas Paving is half of the team that is building the I-15 north widening project.

The team that will build the I-15 South Corridor project includes Las Vegas Paving and at least six local engineering firms, said Bill Wellman, division manager for Las Vegas Paving.

At the peak of construction, between 400 and 430 engineers, construction workers and other staff will be working on the project, Wellman said.

Las Vegas Paving workers will bring lessons learned from the I-15 north project to the new project, including better coordination between designers and builders, and how best to maintain traffic flow, Wellman said.

"We’re very excited to get working on it," he said.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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