Updated December 5, 2022 - 9:15 am
Thanksgiving weekend represented the first test of the recently completed initial phase of work on Interstate 15 southbound at the Nevada-California border that was intended to alleviate traffic congestion.
While there was some improvement in traffic backups last weekend, it wasn’t the “immediate relief” motorists expected when promised last year by the states’ top officials.
In a news conference in December 2021, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged a 5-mile upgrade on I-15 to address the bottleneck that occurs where the interstate goes from three travel lanes to two. The bottleneck is most acute when travelers head back to Southern California after a busy weekend in Southern Nevada.
A year later, Nevada carried out the only work needed on its side of the border, restriping a 1-mile portion of the interstate just before the state line.
California was slated to add a 5-mile auxiliary lane from the state line that would be open to traffic during peak congestion times.
Thus far just a separate 1-mile restriping project has been carried out, allowing for a third lane to be open from the Nevada-California border at all times.
During Thanksgiving week (Wednesday-Sunday), 342,010 vehicles traveling in both directions passed through the Nevada-California border on I-15, according to data collected by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.
The average traffic backup on Sunday as travelers headed back to Southern California clocked in at 11 miles, with the longest stretching 18 miles.
The traffic backup this year was less than last Thanksgiving’s when there was an 18-mile average backup on the Sunday after Turkey Day and the longest backup reached 22 miles. But more vehicles passed through the border last year with 362,421 crossing between the two states during Thanksgiving week.
“This year, the backups were considerably shorter along I-15 between Las Vegas and Southern California,” said Theresa Gaisser, director of the RTC’s Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation, or FAST. “Even with the slight drop in traffic, the one-mile extension of the third southbound lane on I-15 may have helped smooth out some of the usual weaving and merging, resulting in fewer stop-and-go scenarios than we typically see on busy holiday weekends.”
For its part, Caltrans said it is evaluating the impact of the 1-mile transitional lane on I-15 from the Nevada-California during Thanksgiving weekend.
On non-holiday weekends, the transition lane saves travelers heading back to Southern California from Las Vegas an average of 30-40 minutes of travel time on Sundays and Mondays, Caltrans said.
So, when is the rest of the lane work on the California side going to occur? Well, that remains unclear.
“The timing of opening a third southbound lane for five miles from the state line to the California Department of Food and Agricultural Station is still being determined,” Emily Leinen, Caltrans spokeswoman, said in an email.
When the Road Warrior asked Newsom’s office about the remaining $5.1 million worth of work, a spokeswoman said Caltrans could respond on behalf of the administration.
In other words, your guess is as good as mine.
So, as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman quipped when the project was announced, the “Band-Aid sufficing as a tourniquet” will have to do until the remaining work can be carried out — whenever that may be.