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Boulder City tries to pass the truck back to Arizona

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Justin M. Bowen

Vehicles travel toward Henderson on U.S. 93 near Veterans Memorial Drive in Boulder City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011.

Boulder City Traffic

Traffic leaves town heading toward Henderson on U.S. 93 near Veterans Memorial Drive in Boulder City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Opens

The recently opened Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is framed by the Hoover Dam Wednesday, October 20, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Dedication of Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is officially completed. Federal and state dignitaries from Nevada and Arizona dedicated the 1,900-foot-long bridge Thursday, October 14, 2010.

Roger Tobler

Roger Tobler

Boulder City

Authorities banned truck traffic on Hoover Dam after the 9/11 attacks, and the federal government hustled to build the pricey and photogenic Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.

Trucks are able to take the bridge over the Colorado River as they head to Las Vegas, avoiding frustrating detours through Bullhead City, Ariz., and saving time and fuel costs.

But just four months after the bridge opened, Boulder City officials want it closed to trucks because their town can’t handle the traffic. The Nevada Transportation Department has announced it will widen U.S. 93 through Boulder City to address the traffic jams, but until that day comes, the city wants the trucks to return to Bullhead City, 80 miles south.

Bullhead City officials’ response: Uh-uh. No way, buddy. We took the traffic hit for years, and we’re done being nice.

Enter the federal government, where all heads are turning for a solution.

The Federal Highway Administration is stuck in the middle as Boulder City and Bullhead City — with the Nevada and Arizona transportation departments backing their respective residents — plead their cases over the heavy truck traffic on U.S. 93.

The plan was always to bring trucks across the bridge and through Boulder City when coming to Las Vegas. In preparation for the bridge’s opening, Arizona has spent almost $500 million widening parts of U.S. 93 to four lanes.

On Nevada’s side, though, little work was done. Transportation officials hoped to find state and federal money for the Boulder City bypass, which would take truck traffic around the city, but that project could be decades away because of Nevada’s tight finances.

U.S. 93 narrows to two lanes within Boulder City, and hundreds of trucks are pouring through the city each day since the bypass bridge opened in late October.

Last month, the Nevada Transportation Department announced plans to widen U.S. 93 to four lanes in Boulder City — a $10 million to $15 million project with a tentative completion date of Thanksgiving. Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler has insisted truck traffic be rerouted through Bullhead City and Laughlin again until the widening of U.S. 93 is done.

Bullhead City Mayor Jack Hakim approached his state’s Transportation Department during a meeting two weeks ago, asking members to oppose re-establishing the detour through his city. Although trucks took that route after 9/11, Hakim said six accidents occurred involving commercial rigs, two of which closed Laughlin Bridge for nearly 12 hours. None was fatal.

Hakim showed pictures of those accidents to officials. He said he sympathizes with Boulder City’s problem, but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to risk the further traffic influx.

“Something should have been done … That bridge was built for that specific purpose, to handle the traffic — what was it for then?” he said. “You start bringing these trucks here again, it’s going to be a nightmare.”

Tobler has criticized the state and federal agencies for lack of preparation before the bridge opened. In September, the Boulder City Council approved a symbolic ordinance, urging federal transportation authorities to remove U.S. 93 from the official Canada-to-Mexico trucking route.

Tobler also said he doesn’t blame Hakim for standing up for his constituents, but the Boulder City mayor “can’t give him what he wants.”

“It doesn’t shut their city down like it does ours with this traffic. It comes right through the heart of our town,” Tobler said.

U.S. 93 is a major corridor for visitors flowing into the Las Vegas Valley from the east. According to the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, drivers from Arizona account for 9 percent of all guests and more than $1 billion in annual spending.

Traffic on U.S. 95 in Searchlight — the former route — was down 23 percent in January compared with January 2010, according to the Nevada Transportation Department. Volume on U.S. 93 between Boulder City and Hoover Dam increased 32 percent, more than 3,000 extra vehicles a day, this January compared with last.

Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter in October to Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez asking him to “find a solution to accommodate the needs of Boulder City as well as the freight industry.”

Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the highway administration, said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the U.S. 93 situation until his agency receives an application asking for the detour.

Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said he would forward the application to the department within 30 days.

Timothy Tait, assistant communications director for the Arizona Transportation Department, said the agency “shares concerns” with Bullhead City about rerouting traffic. He declined to comment further.

Nevada Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said she isn’t sure how successful its application would be. She’ll see her Arizona counterpart, John Halikowski, this week at a meeting in Washington and said the two would “look at what is the best approach” for both cities and states.

When Nevada announced its plan to widen U.S. 93 in Boulder City, officials said they would use only state funding to add four lanes where traffic bottlenecks near Buchanan Boulevard. Tobler has said that widening the road is only a temporary solution until funding can be found for the Boulder City bypass.

That plan has been incorporated into the Interstate 11 project, which would connect Las Vegas and Phoenix. Officials have said funding for I-11, likely in the billions of dollars, won’t be available for years.

Work on widening U.S. 93 could make traffic worse in Boulder City, making the detour for truck traffic even more important, Tobler said.

“We can’t have the trucks coming through while we’re doing this kind of construction,” he said.

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