The list of people who can cry “Told you so!” in response to the horrible traffic jams leading to and from the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge is nearly as long as the line of cars that now snakes through Boulder City.
There’s no shortage of people to blame for the mess, either.
But now that the predicted gridlock has arrived, making the drive over the Colorado River worse than it ever was, Nevada officials must come to terms with their failure to plan. They must make the solution one of the state’s priorities.
This fall’s opening of the $240 million bridge was supposed to speed tourists and commerce between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the two biggest adjacent American cities not directly connected by an interstate. The four-lane bridge became a national priority following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, after which big rigs were prohibited from crossing the two-lane dam and instead routed through Laughlin. The span would allow truck traffic to return to the shorter route through Boulder City.
The state of Arizona was up to the challenge of preparing its approach to the bridge. Its aggressive schedule has turned U.S. 93 into a four-lane divided highway from the bridge to Kingman and Interstate 40. There are no traffic tie-ups on Arizona’s side.
Nevada, meanwhile, made no capacity improvements beyond its immediate approach to the bridge, leaving two stretches of two-lane road between the four-lane span and four-lane freeway that feed traffic in and out of Boulder City. Talk of building a bypass highway, which would loop traffic south of the city around those choke points, never went anywhere.
The National Park Service shot down state requests to widen some of the two-lane road more than 10 years ago because of environmental concerns. The Nevada Legislature repeatedly rejected a bill that would have allowed the Boulder City bypass highway to built as an experimental toll road.
Next year the Nevada Department of Transportation will add a single lane between Lake Shore Drive and the Hacienda hotel. And Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said Wednesday that he’ll file a state of emergency request with the Federal Highway Administration and ask that trucks be banned from the new bridge and routed through Laughlin. Neither move is a long-term solution.
The bypass highway is the only fix, and incoming Gov. Brian Sandoval must become its champion. He should lead lawmakers on a little field trip in which they drive — not fly over, not park and watch — through the heavy traffic in Boulder City, then cross the bridge to see what Arizona accomplished. What they should have accomplished by now.
Finally, Nevada’s congressional delegation needs to step forward and clear away federal roadblocks to speed up this project.