Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Clark County and his counterpart, Greg Krauss, executive director of the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, are not lacking work. Nevada is a hotbed of activity on the transportation front, with projects funded by state and local government, federal resources and private entities as the Silver State continues to gain new residents and expand its business base.
The American Public Transportation Association, which charts activity across the country, said Nevada is second only to Utah in total federal dollars earmarked for transportation projects since 1998, for states of similar population. To date, Utah has received $540.5 billion for public transportation – the bulk gained for enhancements made in advance of the 2002 Salt Lake City-hosted Winter Olympics. Nevada transportation projects have totaled more than $202 billion in federal funds, but that’s just the beginning in exploring the whole Nevada picture.
In Southern Nevada, for example, the passage of Question 10 in November 2002 earmarks $2.7 billion over the next 25 years for transportation projects, principally completion of the 52-mile Las Vegas Beltway, which will encircle the Valley as a full highway arterial, eliminating the part-freeway, part-access road concept now in place.
“Instead of waiting 35 years to complete the Beltway, it will be done in 10 years,” Snow said. “As growth expands in Southern Nevada, we must look at alternative ways of bringing people from the neighborhoods and communities into the inner city and across the Valley.”
Snow said the opening of the Las Vegas Monorail, which is planned for late January 2004, would help in the transportation of tourists along the Las Vegas Strip. He said additional projects, both conceptual and in the design stages, would be directed primarily toward residents.
The development of a true Downtown Transportation Center would include a station for the expansion of the Las Vegas Monorail, a transfer station for riders on the Citizens Area Transit (CAT) buses, and a central hub for a proposed light-rail system to run alongside the current railroad tracks between Henderson and North Las Vegas. “The railroad tracks that run through Henderson and North Las Vegas carry two trains a day and make the perfect location for this type of light-rail project,” Snow said. “It would bring people from the neighborhoods right into downtown. It’s a concept that hasn’t been tried anywhere else.”
In Washoe County, work has begun on the community’s key transportation venture, a new interchange that will ease the commute for the 15,000 residents in the growing Sun Valley region north of Reno into the city via U.S. 395. The interchange, which will increase the width of U.S. 395, is being constructed near North McCarran Boulevard, which wraps around the Reno-Sparks area. “This is a major undertaking for Reno, and the new interchange will help in alleviating a terrible congestion problem,” Krauss said. “This will have huge benefits for the community.”
In addition to widening other freeways over the next few years, Krauss said Washoe County is looking at building a transportation center for the community’s bus system, a project that is at least several years down the road.
Projects ongoing throughout the state include:
Las Vegas Monorail
The privately financed, $650 million project will connect eight major casino-resorts and the Las Vegas Convention Center along a four-mile route east of the Las Vegas Strip, from the MGM Grand at the south to the Sahara Hotel at the north. Expected to cater mainly to tourists and convention visitors, the monorail is expected to help relieve traffic congestion in the main tourism corridor. Todd Walker, spokesperson for the monorail, said the mode of transportation would also appeal to Las Vegas Valley residents, who could park at a certain property and take the monorail to an event at another location. The monorail cars will hold 72 seated passengers and 152 standing passengers.
Construction of the monorail, which began in 2001, has led to some unique design challenges because of restricted site conditions. The monorail station behind the Sahara Hotel is actually built over Paradise Road. Carter & Burgess, the engineering and architectural firm that designed the fixed facilities and monorail guideways, had to create a series of large concrete beams to provide the primary structure for the station. Also, a 343-foot steel truss pedestrian bridge was constructed to connect the station to the existing Sahara Hotel with a clear span of 115 feet over Paradise Road.
Since the 1930s, the city of Reno has explored ways of isolating trains from vehicle traffic downtown. Finally, work has begun on a $264 million venture – the largest public works project ever in Reno – that will create a 33-foot deep trench for the trains, taking the railroad below street level.
Dubbed ReTrac, the 2.1-mile project is located primarily between Third Street to the north and Commercial Road in the south and is being constructed along the existing Union Pacific Railroad. Funding for the project comes from a variety of sources, including federal, state and local support, as well as Union Pacific funds.
In addition to two new mainline tracks that will be constructed to permit maximum train speeds of 60 miles per hour, 11 street crossing bridges above the trench will also be built. Granite Construction, ReTrac’s builder, is currently designing the 2.6-mile temporary (shoofly) tracks on which the trains will run while the trench is being built. The shoofly is slated for completion in April 2004 and the entire project should be finished in spring 2006.
Throughout the least populated areas of the Silver State, public transportation projects are underway that will help travel to outlying areas in addition to easing traffic lanes that serve as trucking transport routes between states.
“We always have various maintenance projects underway throughout the state to keep our existing highways in good standing,” said Scott Magruder, spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT). “We have been able to secure federal and state funding that is allowing us to do some much-needed widening on several state highways and build some expansions throughout the state.”
One current project is a widening of Highway 50A between Fernley and Fallon that will turn almost 50 miles of the well-traveled road from two lanes to a four-lane divided highway at a cost of $30 million. The project is being developed in three phases, with total completion expected by the end of 2004. Also, two maintenance projects on various sections of Interstate 80 near Elko are underway, totaling $20 million.
Rural areas of Clark County are also undergoing facelifts. About 18 miles of U.S. 95 from Searchlight heading north are being widened to a four-lane divided road with completion expected by the end of 2003. The $22 million project is being completed in anticipation of increased truck traffic being brought about by work on the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge. In 2004, a second phase of the U.S. 95 project will be undertaken, extending the four lanes an additional 18 miles to Railroad Pass.
NDOT is also involved in the $82 million Beltway Interchange project in Henderson, which will connect Interstate 215 with Interstate 515. The project broke ground this fall and is expected to take three years to complete.
Hoover Dam Bypass Project
With an average of 14,000 vehicles – including large transport trucks shepherding commercial goods between Arizona, Nevada and Utah – crossing Hoover Dam on a daily basis, the current two-lane highway (U.S. 93) atop Hoover Dam is no longer adequate. In addition, traffic is expected to increase, as U.S. 93 becomes an important route between Mexico and Canada as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The $234 million project to bypass the dam – with a mix of funding from various federal sources, Nevada and Arizona – is being managed by the Federal Highway Administration. It will consist of a four-lane highway bridge crossing above the Colorado River just south of Hoover Dam. The current roadway will remain open for Hoover Dam visitors. Design for the roadway and its support structures began in August 2001 and the project is scheduled for completion in 2007.
Traffic Management Center – Clark County
With the continued expansion of the Las Vegas Valley roadways, the infrastructure to manage the area’s roads and freeways is being improved through cooperation from NDOT and local agencies in developing the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). The network will better manage highways, provide information to motorists and improve overall travelout through the Valley.
The nucleus of the program is the FAST (Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation) Traffic Management Center that will be completed in 2004 near I-215 and Decatur Boulevard. The center, which will also house the Southern Nevada headquarters of the Nevada Highway Patrol, will allow for an integrated freeway management system between the NHP, the Regional Transportation Commission, Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.
The network of technologies to be implemented will include: message signs on freeways to relay information to motorists; freeway entrance ramp meters; closed-circuit television cameras to monitor incidents; a detection system to monitor traffic congestion; and a highway advisory radio system.
Whether as low-tech as filling in potholes on rural roads, or as high-tech as a computerized traffic management system, there is no shortage of transportation projects in Nevada, so motorists can expect no relief in the immediate future from the ever-present orange cones that line roadways throughout the state.