Downtown to get worse before it gets better

The Regional Justice Center is a beautiful building, but it’s no secret that it has had its problems.

It was plagued by delays during construction when Clark County battled the general contractor, which had its own ongoing wars with subcontractors. It was overdue and overbudget. Then when it opened, it was “under-elevatored.” The lack of lifts left lines of attorneys and visitors snaking through the lobby.

The project is missing something else, which was largely unnoticed until recently. A pedestrian bridge that was drawn into the original plans and later vaporized might soon become a hot topic at the courthouse, which accommodates about 10,000 visitors daily.

“In the original design, there was a walkover bridge to the parking area,” Chief District Judge Art Ritchie said. “It was value engineered, which is a fancy way of saying it was cut out because of the cost.”

Until now, it wasn’t really a big deal.

The bridge was initially proposed to carry visitors, judges and court personnel across Clark Avenue, a fairly quiet road that is void of heavy traffic on the south side of the justice center. During much of the five years the building has been open, Clark has been partially blocked off to through traffic as leaky cooling pipes under the road were replaced.

Judges park in a secure lot across Clark and visitors use a lot closer to Bonneville Avenue. Walking to the courthouse isn’t exactly a life-threatening task.

A new layout of downtown streets might make the short trek to the courthouse a little more tricky.

The city of Las Vegas will soon begin digging up Clark and Bonneville avenues. In about a year, both streets will reopen as one-way arterials. Bonneville will guide motorists east between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. Clark will become downtown’s main westbound route.

Four years ago, after a Reno Family Court judge was shot through the window of his chambers, questions swirled in Las Vegas over how safe the judges are having to cross the street unprotected.

Now we are going to make them play Frogger to get to work?

“One of our concerns is that traffic will be a lot busier on this road because there won’t be an alternate route a block south,” Ritchie said. “We haven’t resolved the problem of getting the public over here. We’re always concerned about the logistics of safely getting in the building.”

Additionally, operations at the courthouse could interrupt traffic on Clark, Ritchie said. Delivery trucks and buses shuttling in inmates from outlying prisons use the dock on the south side of the building. There is little room between the street and the dock area.

Ritchie, who paid a visit to city officials after learning of the road plans, said he fears the westbound traffic that once used Bonneville will all pile onto Clark. The new City Hall at the end of Clark will only exacerbate the congestion, he said.

Jace Radke, a spokesman for the city, said traffic engineers acknowledge that traffic will increase on Clark. But the fact that a new traffic signal will be installed at Third Street combined with Clark being a one-way street is actually expected to improve safety.

“Today (pedestrians) must look for gaps and potential conflicts from both directions and with the one-way operation, they only have one direction to worry about,” Radke said. “Once the signal is operational, folks who cross Clark will have consistent long gaps in the traffic stream.”

The worst part of this whole deal will likely be the construction itself. Anyone who travels downtown probably sees orange cones and barrels in their sleep. A couple of years ago, the Regional Transportation Commission began digging up Casino Center Boulevard for its designated express bus route — you know, the one that used to be called ACE that we can no longer call ACE.

Then construction began on the Bonneville Transit Center at Bonneville and Casino Center.

In between there have been sewer line projects throughout downtown.

Changing Bonneville and Clark into one-way roads is no easy task. The $4.3 million project includes installing new curbs and gutters, fresh landscaping, striping and traffic signals on the five-block stretch of the streets.

For the next 10 months or so, getting around downtown won’t be any walk to the courthouse.

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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