Get ready for more road work at the Rainbow Curve.
Yes, that Rainbow Curve. The interchange that’s clogged by construction to the north on U.S. Highway 95. The interchange that was redesigned multiple times while being expanded a few years back. The interchange that has its own stock of orange barrels and electronic message boards.
We wish we could say the next project would be worth the trouble and money. But it isn’t.
On Monday, the Nevada Department of Transportation starts work on a $26 million bridge that will take high-occupancy vehicle traffic between Summerlin Parkway and U.S. Highway 95 over Rainbow Boulevard. Although the interchange’s existing links between the thoroughfares are certainly adequate, the flyover HOV lanes will allow vehicles carrying at least two passengers to avoid lots of lane changes and proceed from the middle of one highway to the other.
The project is part of a master plan, drawn up years ago, that includes HOV lanes on Summerlin Parkway.
Those HOV lanes haven’t been built yet. The expansion of Summerlin Parkway was effectively scratched by the housing meltdown and recession. The city of Las Vegas is now pursuing federal funding for the project, which would give the parkway four lanes in each direction, including one HOV lane. That request might not be realized for years, if at all.
But that reality won’t delay NDOT’s flyover lanes. NDOT spokeswoman Michelle Booth reports that because the federal government is footing about 90 percent of the bridge’s bill, that money can’t be applied to more worthwhile projects. The flyover HOV lanes should be complete in about 11 months, she said.
So while the few motorists who use this bridge might enjoy a slightly different view of the concrete jungle below, westbound travelers won’t have a dedicated lane to land on. NDOT is effectively adding a third lane to dump traffic onto the same, two-lane Summerlin Parkway.
Yes, NDOT will provide plenty of pavement for merges to take place on both highways. The city of Las Vegas says additional improvements will be made on westbound Summerlin Parkway between Durango Drive and U.S. 95 to make traffic flow as smoothly as possible until money materializes for the larger widening project.
But that doesn’t change the fact that HOV lanes are a waste of good pavement. The HOV lanes that run along U.S. 95 between Interstate 15 and Rainbow are woefully underutilized during peak traffic periods. Which means this new flyover bridge will be largely empty when it could do some good.
Spending $26 million on a mostly unusable bridge is nothing to get excited about.