I-15 work hits F Street wall

More than a few people are worried about a lawsuit filed two weeks ago to stop the ongoing Interstate 15 north widening project.

There probably should be at least 170,000 people worried about it, since that’s the number of drivers who use I-15 north on a daily basis.

At the center of the lawsuit is F Street, a somewhat innocuous side street that goes under I-15 and connects West Las Vegas to downtown near Bonanza Road.

That is until the street was permanently closed as part of the $240 million widening project a few months back.

A dirt wall now separates downtown from West Las Vegas, the historic black neighborhood generally bordered by Carey Avenue, Bonanza Road, I-15 and Rancho Drive.

The lawsuit filed in District Court by two West Las Vegas residents and two concerned citizen groups calls for a halt to the widening project until state and city planners agree to take the “permanently” out of “permanently closed.”

Redoing the F Street overpass midway through the three-year project probably would cost millions of dollars and delay its completion. That would mean continued congestion for motorists who use that section of the interstate daily.

Reconstructing the overpass would mean F Street probably would have to be reconfigured and realigned.

That’s no easy feat.

Proponents of the lawsuit have been very vocal, alleging racism was behind the closure. They say the city of Las Vegas and the Nevada Department of Transportation sought to close F Street in an effort to segregate West Las Vegas from downtown.

They say closing F Street blocks emergency services from getting to West Las Vegas, denies residents access to government buildings and hampers redevelopment prospects.

Lead attorney Matthew Callister said he believes city officials wanted to partition West Las Vegas, which has been considered a lower-income and high-crime area, from planned development at Union Park on Grand Central Parkway.

The $6 billion Union Park project calls for hotels and casinos, a performing arts center, professional office and residential buildings, as well as retail space.

The lawsuit contends the Transportation Department and the city did not give residents an adequate opportunity to comment on the closure as required by law or inform them of plans to permanently close F Street.

The lawsuit calls for the city and the Transportation Department to reopen F Street under I-15 or pay residents for lost property value because of the closure.

But the residents don’t really care about the money, Callister said. They just want F Street reopened.

Mum’s the word from city officials about the lawsuit, even though they were the ones who asked for the permanent closure.

After the lawsuit was filed, the city re-released an old press release explaining the reasons for the closure.

“The city has proposed closing F Street as part of the NDOT project, because it would eliminate ‘cut-through traffic’ on the residential street, redirecting traffic to a wider collector street — D Street. This proposal by the city was prompted in large part by a fatal accident that occurred several years ago involving a cement truck and a moped as well as complaints from neighbors.”

According to the city, residents within a 400-foot radius of the closure were mailed a notice of the proposed closure in February 2006. Public meetings and comment period followed in 2007. Transportation officials said no one made an issue of the F Street closure during the public hearings.

They said the state met all the requirements regarding public meetings and comment periods. Besides, there are other access points to West Las Vegas, including D Street, 1,000 feet away from F Street.

But Callister explained there’s a history that has a number of West Las Vegans concerned that F won’t be the last street to be closed.

He said this is not the first time city officials have tried to block off West Las Vegas from downtown.

City officials attempted in the 1960s and 1970s to close D, F, and H streets during construction of I-15 and U.S. Highway 95. The city relented under protest from West Las Vegans, according to the lawsuit.

One state transportation official told me the history of West Las Vegas along with public pressure might be enough to cause a judge to let the lawsuit move forward, even if public meetings laws were followed correctly.

Let’s not forget the last time the Transportation Department thought all their ducks were in a row and were sued in the middle of a project. A lawsuit by the Sierra Club during the U.S. 95 north widening project delayed it nine months and cost an extra $20 million.

District Court Judge Ken Cory will hear the lawsuit on Jan. 27.

And a protest march organized by the local chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network is being planned for Wednesday.

One thing’s for sure, this issue is not going away quietly.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Francis McCabe at (702) 387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@review journal.com. Please include your phone number.

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