Thursday, July 24, 2008 | 7:12 p.m.
- Interstate 15 work to squeeze busy Vegas freeway (7-10-2008)
- Legislature finally approves Gibbons’ budget cuts (5-23-2008)
- Interstate 15 project to test idea: Why wait for design to build? (7-8-2007)
Gov. Jim Gibbons on Thursday asked motorists who sit through traffic snarls on Interstate 15 to be patient. He tried to offer some encouraging words: Despite cuts to the state's transportation budget, the North Las Vegas project is ahead of schedule.
The I-15 project, with an estimated price tag of $242 million, is the first road construction project in Nevada history to be designed and built simultaneously. The improvements, including new pavement, new bridges and the widening of the road, are slated from the Spaghetti Bowl interchange north to Craig Road.
Gibbons and Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich spoke with the news media at the I-15 Project Headquarters, 206 E. Lake Mead Blvd., after touring several construction areas along the stretch of road Thursday afternoon. The governor said the project is moving two to three weeks ahead of schedule.
About 170,000 vehicles use the congested 5 1/2-mile stretch of road each day, according to NDOT. The interstate was built in the 1960s and hasn't received a major upgrade since its construction -- despite a Valley population that has increased seven-fold since 1970.
A reduction to two lanes earlier this month from the Spaghetti Bowl interchange to Lake Mead Boulevard -- both northbound and southbound -- has created sluggish traffic for drivers north of the downtown Las Vegas area. The governor said other lane restrictions and ramp closures are in the works.
“This is a difficult project to complete,” Gibbons said. “It is requiring us to constrict traffic down -- in some cases -- to two lanes that were once more than two lanes, which is going to bring an … inconvenient slowdown of traffic until we get this finished.
“But knowing that we’re going to get it finished two years earlier than normal means that for that inconvenience and for their patience, (drivers) are going to have a much better freeway system on I-15.”
Martinovich said the construction process -- the simultaneous designing and building -- puts the road on pace to be completed two years earlier than if it had gone through the typical process of designing, bidding, then building.
Many of the state’s construction projects are on the chopping block in the face of a $250 million state budget deficit. Under the budget approved by lawmakers, the transportation department must delay or cancel $50 million in road projects.
“People will be safe -- there won’t be huge potholes -- but we’ve had to cut down on some of those projects,” Martinovich said.
The state is saving money on transportation by scaling back right-of-way purchases and pavement maintenance projects. The I-15 project, however, has the green light to move forward and should be complete by 2010.
Asked whether he would consider raising the state's fuel tax to help pay for road projects, Gibbons said that option is off the table.
“Right now, with everyone paying $4.50 or more per gallon of gasoline, to go to the traveling public and say 'we’re going to raise your taxes,' I would find very little support in the public arena for that,” he said.
NDOT is working with transportation officials in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, the Nevada Highway Patrol and other agencies to monitor traffic flow in the area.
“Take other routes, go different places, plan ahead,” Martinovich said. “Yes, there is some backup. It’s mostly at the peak times and it’s gone a lot smoother (than expected).”
Ramps from U.S. 95 to I-15 northbound will be closed through summer 2009. Other ramps will be closed periodically, and local streets will be shut down as construction progresses.
“All in all, this I think is going to improve the traffic flow north and south on I-15 tremendously,” Gibbons said. “It’s just going to take us awhile to get there and it is going to be a challenge, so we ask for the traveling public to be patient with us as we go through this project.”