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Beware of I-15 near Sahara Avenue

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out something strange is going on along Interstate 15 at Sahara Avenue.

It’s sort of a Bermuda Triangle, except cars don’t disappear, they just crash. A lot.

Apparently it does take a gaggle of so-called transportation geniuses to figure out what the heck is going on here. According to my calculations, which are based on Regional Transportation Commission e-mails alerting motorists of traffic troubles, more accidents happen at Sahara than any other spot on the valley’s freeways.

“We’re aware of the situation. We’re just trying to find a solution,” Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Bob McKenzie said in a head-scratching tone. “It’s an enigma, to say the least. I can’t figure out why people are crashing.”

Yet they are.

Math is not my forte, but once I figured out how to calculate percentages, I learned this: During a two-month period, 140 accidents occurred on Las Vegas freeways; 38 percent were on I-15 at or near Sahara. Of those collisions, 87 percent happened in the northbound lanes.

You certainly don’t need to own a degree in traffic engineering to recognize a problem on this portion of Interstate 15.

After several calls to our transportation agencies, it appeared we touched a nerve. It took longer than usual for the RTC’s Tracy Bower to respond, but she eventually offered this carefully worded statement: “We are aware of the increase in the number of incidents along that stretch of I-15. We’ve been working with NHP (Nevada Highway Patrol) and NDOT to identify what those causes might be.”

To me, that’s bureaucratic speak for, “We don’t want to talk about it.” So, I decided to drive the stretch myself to see whether distractions might be the issue.

I hopped on Interstate 15 north from Spring Mountain Road and was immediately greeted with — surprise! — an electronic message that read: “Accident at Sahara, expect delays.” Four fender-benders involving a total of 10 vehicles plus six NHP cars quickly appeared.

What is going on? Are there distractions? Is it Treasures, the strip club that gained fame after Dennis Rodman crashed a motorcycle and was nailed with a DUI? Perhaps the billboard advertising the Green Door? “Green Door, the swingers club? Where?”

Maybe divine intervention caused by the “Lord of Hosts” sign? Or is Palace Station’s stunning architecture a head-turner?

Probably none of the above.

One might argue that other portions of our valley’s freeways offer greater challenges.

The Rainbow Curve can be difficult to negotiate; sudden twists and turns and brake lights on Highway 95 near Eastern Avenue can make your heart pound; lane markers on I-15 around Flamingo — some of which are new, some old and all visible — causes confusion.

On the surface, I-15 at Sahara seems fairly straightforward, but under closer examination, there’s a lot going on there.

The Spring Mountain Road on ramp to I-15 north feeds directly into the off-ramp lane leading to Sahara. At the same time, express lanes are ending and vehicles are making their way toward upcoming exits. Essentially, it’s a merge-fest. And to be honest, it doesn’t help that some motorists seem to resent drivers who dare merge ahead of them, gaining a whole car length.

NHP Trooper Alan Davidson, an enforcer not an engineer, willingly discussed the issue.

Most of the accidents are minor, and the majority are caused by inattentiveness, he said. Motorists enjoying a speedy, smooth ride in the express lanes suddenly hit congestion caused by the Spaghetti Bowl.

“You have express lanes ending there, traffic merging in, traffic trying to get off and the Spaghetti Bowl backing up,” Davidson said. “Some people aren’t paying attention and have to take evasive action to slow down or make a quick lane change so they don’t rear-end somebody.”

The Sahara off ramp also poses problems, Davidson said. Motorists turning east on Sahara have difficulty seeing oncoming traffic because the street is more sharply angled than the traditional 90-degree intersection. Motorists inevitably pull out and hit their brakes when they finally see oncoming vehicles.

You can guess what happens next.

“They get rear-ended,” Davidson said. “We handle two or three of those a day.”

Regardless of whether it is a design flaw or simply motorists’ minds wandering off, there is a problem on one of the most traveled portions of Interstate 15.

“We’re spending a lot of our time investigating out there,” Davidson said. “It’s ridiculous.”

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.

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