Those cones are playing games with us

Construction zones create a playing field for a little game of chicken.

Not up for it? Too bad if you happen to work or live or shop near the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Bonanza Road.

Remember that lane that ferried traffic west yesterday? Overnight it was designated for eastbound traffic. Game on. It’s the eastbound UPS truck versus your westbound grill.

I don’t bring up this road project to be egocentric, what with the Review-Journal just down the block. This ongoing fiasco known as the Martin Luther King Boulevard widening project seems to encapsulate the frustrations felt by every motorist who must maneuver through road construction zones at every turn.

Drivers become accustomed to lane configurations, then poof! Gone. You envision workers scurrying around in the dark of the night shuffling cones with no purpose. They play life-sized checkers; we play life-threatening chicken.

Of course, it would be easier to imagine these crews messing with us if construction workers were ever actually seen in those construction zones. Cones are visible everywhere. Workers, not so much.

Signage is awful. No one knows exactly where the left-turn-only lane is, so some create their own and others slip into the least crowded lane, then proceed to make a turn. Motorists idling in the turn lane actually want to go straight and do so. Amazingly, they never seem fazed that they are instantly inches away from another automobile.

Horns blow, fingers fly, but really, it’s not necessarily the drivers at fault. Who is in charge of these projects? Who is responsible for ensuring our safety? Why don’t they lessen the inconvenience at least by finishing one segment before starting another?

And why the heck does it take so long to complete these things?

A guy named Ronald aired his frustrations over how long Martin Luther King has been torn up, repaved, reduced to two lanes, then to one lane and so on. He suggested the project has taken nearly as long as the $8 billion CityCenter project, the largest privately funded development in this country’s history.

I laughed. Compare the two projects and you might enjoy a chuckle, too.

CityCenter broke ground a couple of years before the Martin Luther King project launched. But a photograph of CityCenter in March 2008 — the month the 2.5-mile widening project started — shows the 18 million-square-foot project in skeletal form.

CityCenter is expected to open in December. Martin Luther King? Sometime in the first quarter of 2010, according to the city of Las Vegas.

Apparently, this is something that the contractor, Wells Cargo, is not interested in talking about. Several calls to the office went unreturned this past week. So we turned to the city of Las Vegas, which oversees that project.

City traffic engineer O.C. White tried to shed some light on it.

First off, the project entails more than widening and repaving the roadway; it also includes the installation of utility lines. When it appears there are no crews working in a construction zone, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Seriously, they could be underground.

“It makes it difficult to explain to folks what’s going on when they can’t see them,” White explained. “It looks like there is no one working on the surface, but there may be underground projects going on, and you really don’t want people driving over them.”

Hey, do those homeless people who set up elaborate bedrooms in the flood channels below Las Vegas streets see these crews?

When it appears that cones are in areas where construction is nonexistent, well, that actually could be the case. Subcontractors who place the cones sometimes don’t return until the day the work is expected to be finished. If work is completed early, the cones will remain until the cone-dropping company returns. Somewhat baffling.

White said traffic engineers travel through the intersection daily and have never noticed a problem with lane configurations and signage, nor have they received any complaints from the public. Even more baffling.

“We’re trying to keep the folks out there using the roads as safe as possible,” White said.

How the work on the roadway unfolds is essentially up to the contractor. If the city directs them to finish one segment before starting a new stretch, the company can up the price of the work. The city basically asks, at least at the Martin Luther King/Bonanza intersection, that two lanes in each direction remain open.

“When we try to tell them how to do their job, the job can end up costing twice as much,” White said. “How they do it is up to them.”

The company must follow city ordinances that regulate traffic control and signage. White hasn’t noted any violations of those rules.

Folks in the West Las Vegas neighborhood will have to pay closer attention to the signs, if they exist, and realize they will have a brand new roadway, three lanes in each direction, when the project is finally complete. That should be some time early next year. But when? That brings us to a whole new game. It’s called the guessing game.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at (702) 387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@review Include your phone number.

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