Motorists in the east valley are feeling it: Boulder Highway near Sahara Avenue has been torn up, lanes replaced by cones for months.
Residents in the northwest overcame it: Lone Mountain Road was torn up and decorated with bright orange detour signs for weeks on end.
The problem has plagued the valley over the last few years – massive machinery that chewed gaping holes in the roads goes silent and the workers who are supposed to fix them vanish. The scene remains the same for weeks, leaving drivers stuck in traffic or following detours for no apparent reason except the fact there are cones protecting them from dangerous canyons that once were traveling lanes.
It is a challenge and frustration for public works officials too. Since the economy tanked, they are seeing more companies land contracts to complete major jobs only to fold before the work is completed and the streets are patched and repaved.
Incidents when construction companies filed for bankruptcy midjob were rare only a few years ago, but it has become more common, leaving public works engineers and elected officials trying to figure out how best to resolve the issue.
As it stands, when construction firms file for bankruptcy, the government contacts the surety company, and it can give the bond money to the entity to issue another request for proposals or it can choose another contractor to complete the successful bidder’s obligation.
It takes time to reach new agreements because of liabilities, obligations and time frames. That’s why projects hit a roadblock and are essentially abandoned for what seems like an eternity if they happen to be in your neighborhood. It can take a month or longer to figure out who will be awarded the contract to complete the work.
I thought perhaps legislation could be put in place that would allow governments to allow the second-lowest bidder to finish the work left behind to avoid the delays we’ve experienced, so I floated the idea past some public works experts.
According to them, I’m not an expert. My proposal might not necessarily resolve the snags that hold up road construction.
Clark County has faced four occasions when the contractor failed to complete the job. The most prominent are jobs on Casino Center Drive in Laughlin and Boulder Highway from U.S. Highway 95 to Sahara Avenue.
Denis Cederburg, director of the county’s Public Works Department, said laws permitting government agencies to automatically shift the job to the second-highest bidder might not be as simple as it sounds. For example, the general contractor might be tied up on another job or the subcontractors it uses could be unavailable.
“It’s working for us,” Cederburg said of the existing process. “It’s a lengthy process, but it’s working for us.”
Engineers would have to walk the job with potential contractors to determine what needs to be finished and how much it would cost.
But there are other issues.
Jorge Cervantes, public works director for the city of Las Vegas, said the next-to-lowest bidder might be reluctant to take over a job another company started.
“They don’t know that the work done up to this point is adequate and don’t want to be liable,” said Cervantes, whose city struggled with the Lone Mountain woes and ran into the same problem with the Floyd Lamb detention basin. “We’d have to go to the original bid, and that would probably cost us more.”
Most surety companies are out of state, and that tends to set back the work. They reach out to the original contracting firm to confirm it can no longer perform its duties, then typically hire a company to manage the company. That company, in turn, hires the contractor.
“The only impact to the city is that it impacts the public; it’s usually a month or two before they get out there,” Cervantes said. “But I think the way we have it now is the best way. There is less risk to the city.”
The city’s primary problem related to road work and the economy is private developers. They may build a neighborhood but run out of money when it comes to road improvements like paving, curb, gutters and traffic signals. The developer signs an agreement to complete all those upgrades, but ends up broke before those obligations are fulfilled.
Robert Murnane, who oversees Henderson’s public works division, said his city hasn’t experienced contractors walking off the job.
“We’ve recently seen general contractors get awfully close to the edge, but we haven’t had anybody go bankrupt,” he said.
A law allowing cities to move on to the next bidder would take the bureaucracy out of the process, he said, but agreed it would be difficult to work out the cost. Some bidders, for example, include traffic control, while others don’t. To renegotiate the price would be complicated.
Readers constantly express frustration over roads that are torn up and left that way for months, and who can blame them? Maybe a lawmaker during the next legislative session will come up with a better solution to resolve the problem. I believe the consensus of local public works experts is that I swung and missed with my proposal.
If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior
@reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number. Also, you can follow her on Twitter @RJ_RoadWarrior.
■ Between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. tonight through Wednesday morning, the southbound airport connector from Interstate 215 will be closed for widening. Traffic will be detoured to Hidden Wells Road to Gilespie Street to Warm Springs Road where motorists can re-enter I-215. Expect the same closures during the same times the following week.
■ Between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, the northbound airport connector from Interstate 215 will be closed. Expect the same closures during the same times the following week.
■ Through Friday, Betty Lane will be closed to through traffic between Harris and Washington avenues for sewer rehabilitation work.
■ Through Aug. 31, expect delays on Shadow Lane between Charleston Boulevard and Alta Drive. The work includes street widening, replacement of sewer lines and upgrading of traffic signals and crosswalks.
■ Expect delays on Oakey Boulevard between Rancho Drive and Decatur Boulevard through the summer as storm drain work continues.
■ Expect delays on Valley View Boulevard between Charleston Boulevard and Sahara Avenue throughout the summer as the road is widened.
The average price of gasoline in the Las Vegas Valley on Friday was $3.36 per gallon; the current state average is $3.45; the national average is $3.58.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL