Boulder City bypass project advances amid asbestos reporting concerns

Members of the Regional Transportation Commission aren’t happy that it took the Nevada Department of Transportation nearly three months to move on the discovery of naturally occurring asbestos on the route of a highway project deemed one of the state’s most important.

Commission Chairman Larry Brown, a Clark County commissioner, criticized Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon Thursday for failing to notify the transportation commission of the discovery of asbestos by researchers on the Boulder City bypass section of the proposed Interstate 11 project.

“The bottom line is you need to either let us help you or you need to get out of the way,” Brown said. “I have a lot of respect for you, but this is frustrating.”

The I-11 project will link Phoenix with Las Vegas and a key portion of the route is a bypass of Boulder City just north of Hoover Dam.

Brown also had a few choice words for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas researchers who didn’t reach out to the transportation commission either.

The Boulder City bypass is a two-phase $600 million project,with 12.5 miles nearest to the Arizona border under the transportation district’s jurisdiction and 2.5 miles closest to Las Vegas under the state’s.

“Our 12½ miles, we’re finishing in 4½ months, maybe five months,” Brown said. “You’re going after 2.75 miles or thereabouts and it’s going to take six to seven months. Hire a second firm. Hire our guys. Let them keep digging on your side. Did we not offer that? … It’s unbelievable.”

According to a timeline established by Brown at Thursday’s monthly commission meeting, UNLV researchers told the department about the discovery of asbestos particles in late November. The discovery was reported by the news media in early December — the first time commissioners had heard about it.

The transportation department approved a contract to Tetra Tech, a Pasadena, Calif.-based environmental engineering firm, in February to determine the extent of the asbestos problem and how to address it. The firm said it would complete its work by July, but Malfabon has urged the company to speed it up.

The state Transportation Board first discussed the asbestos issue at its March meeting.

Meanwhile, the commission hired Las Vegas-based Kleinfelder, another environmental engineer, when it learned of the asbestos problem in December.

Under the terms of the project agreement, the state could collaborate with the transportation commission on its portion of the project. The fact that it didn’t was what ignited Brown’s criticism.

A single report on the asbestos must be filed to the Federal Highway Administration, which means Kleinfelder and Tetra Tech will have to work together at some point.

Transportation commissioners are concerned that the communications breakdown would lead to construction delays and credibility problems at a time when the public voted to give the county authority to raise fuel taxes through indexing to speed up and build additional highway projects.

At Thursday’s meeting, the commission voted unanimously to approve a process to bid its portion of the bypass, a design-build project for a four-lane highway that would circle Boulder City to the south with a timeline for an October bid award. Three joint ventures cleared an initial request for qualifications on the project.

The Kleinfelder asbestos mitigation report is scheduled for delivery in May, weeks before it is expected to be put out for bid.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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