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ROAD WARRIOR: Drivers win some, lose some on roads in 2011

Over the past year, transportation agencies were kind enough to decorate what seemed like almost every major street in our city with lovely little orange cones and giant festive orange barrels.

We shook our heads in frustration as we negotiated detours and dealt with congestion. But at the end of the day — or in this case, year — transportation officials designed projects and that resulted in the gift of a smoother commute.

Take a look back at the major projects of 2011.

BREAKING THE BOTTLENECK

Even before high-profile diplomats descended upon Boulder City to christen the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge, it was obvious that the $240 million span would create problems on U.S. Highway 93. It didn’t take a transportation expert to see that a four-lane freeway feeding into a two-lane highway was going to cause traffic jams.

Still, engineers did not foresee the bottleneck that would be created on two miles of the northbound highway and fives miles of the southbound roadway. They certainly did not envision the backup snaking over the pass and into Henderson or the frustration that brewed in the normally quiet community of Boulder City.

The Nevada Department of Transportation also didn’t predict the renewed battle between Boulder City and Bullhead City over tractor-trailers. Boulder City blamed the backups on the trucks and asked that they be detoured through Bullhead City until the highway was widened. Bullhead City Mayor Jack Hakim said, well, bull, and the truck route through Boulder City remained.

It’s easy to knock the transportation division for failing to widen the highway as our neighbors to the south did before the opening of the bridge, but we should also give credit for what the department accomplished this year.

Thanks to an aggressive work schedule, a $15 million widening project that would typically take a year to complete because of the bidding process and acquiring rights-of-way, only took three months. The newly widened road opened just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend.

REPAVING THE FREEWAY

Speaking of bold construction schedules, Fisher Sand & Gravel busted out a repaving job on the state’s busiest freeway more than a week ahead of its deadline. All but one lane in each direction of Interstate 15 was closed for an entire weekend as crews worked between the Spaghetti Bowl and Tropicana Avenue.

The Department of Transportation opted to apply rubberized asphalt, providing motorists with a smooth, quiet ride on the interstate.

It was the first time in 15 years that the freeway was resurfaced. Think it had a few cracks? Well, if the amount of sealant needed was placed in a straight line, it would have stretched from Las Vegas to Kingman, Ariz., about 94 miles.

Here are a few other figures to demonstrate what a huge undertaking the marathon weekend paving was: 93 crew members worked a total of 1,517 hours; the rubber hot plant in Sloan operated for 34 hours, and enough new paint was used to draw a straight line between the valley and Baker, Calif. Crews embedded 36,940 raised markers in the freeway.

SPEEDING THE BUSES

The Regional Transportation Commission long ago decided that a light-rail train system was too expensive and far less flexible than bus systems.

Its greatest challenge was removing the stigma associated with riding the bus. It launched new express services in 2010, but the system blossomed in 2011.

Before the Westcliff Airport Express line took off, the only way to get to the airport was by personal vehicle or pricey taxis or limousines.

And tourists took a liking to the light-rail-looking vehicles that shuttle passengers between downtown Las Vegas and the Strip.

Designated bus lanes, flashy signs and ticket vendors at covered bus shelters made public transportation more appealing.

The proof was in the record-breaking ridership numbers.

Before the express lines were unveiled, about 400 passengers a day rode the bus to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets-North; now an average of 1,500 shoppers a day use public transportation.

For the first 10 months of the year, the Strip and downtown express lines drew 11.8 million passengers, up 1.2 million from the previous year.

October was the biggest month, with 1.3 million using the Strip express and Deuce line; that’s an average of 43,000 passengers a day.

Look for the Sahara express line, which will run between Hualapai Way and Boulder Highway, to open next year.

REVAMPING I-15

And although it won’t wrap up until next year, the Interstate 15 design-build south project was the most prominent — and sometimes inconvenient — construction job of the year.

We watched as crews gouged out the Earth below thoroughfares to make space for frontage roads on each side of Interstate 15.

Residents in the southwest valley who rely on Blue Diamond Road were given a massive flyover, expediting the trip from westbound Blue Diamond to northbound Interstate 15.

Residents in the southeast valley were not as lucky; they lost their access from Interstate 15 to eastbound Blue Diamond.

The Department of Transportation also flubbed up the Warm Springs Road bridge over the freeway. Las Vegas Paving crews tore down the 40-some-year-old span in January and had planned to have a new four-lane bridge open by now. Flaws in the design forced engineers to literally return to the drawing board. As a result new steel girders had to be ordered. Now we are looking at a May completion date for the vital bridge that links the east and west sides of the valley.

Overall, the design-build project is designed to free up Interstate 15 for motorists commuting between the south and north ends of town.

Strip visitors and employees are expected to use the frontage roads, eliminating the merging and weaving on the freeway as people enter and exit.

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.

 

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