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November 21, 2014

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U.S. 93 project in Boulder City to be ready for holiday traffic

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Traffic leaving town gathers on U.S. 93 near the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge outside 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 »

Hoover Dam Bypass Project

The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge section of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project is seen just south of the Hoover Dam on Aug. 19, 2010. Launch slideshow »

When transportation officials began planning in January to widen U.S. Highway 93 through Boulder City, they said a project of its size would normally take three years. But they promised to get it done by Thanksgiving.

They met the deadline — but not easily.

Crews are expected to finish work on the main lanes of the road Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, motorists should have four free-flowing lanes of highway all the way through the town.

It’s been a rough year for Boulder City and U.S. 93, the main highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix that transects the small town that built the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam Bypass opened last October, featuring a breathtaking new bridge to give traffic a faster, more direct route than the old road across the dam offered.

But Boulder City quickly discovered that while the bypass removed the old choke point at the dam, and the security shacks on each side, the traffic backup didn’t go away, it moved up the road and into town.

Once Boulder City’s complaints got loud enough, the Nevada Department of Transportation set out with an ambitious plan to widen U.S. 93 through town.

The project would be difficult not because of its size, but because of its location in a narrow strip of rocky terrain close to residential areas.

There were numerous government agencies involved since the road goes through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, plus more than a half-dozen utility companies that had to relocate power, sewer, gas and water lines.

For highway projects like this, the state usually uses federal money, but those funds require extra studies and approvals from federal agencies, so the transportation department bypassed those steps by using only state money for the $15 million project.

But when crews finally started working in August, there were a series of delays. Some of the utility companies couldn’t start working until others were done, project manager Tony Lorenzi said.

And when they started blasting the hill next to the Hacienda Casino to make room for a wider road, they discovered the solid rock wasn’t giving way as easily as expected, Lorenzi said.

Tommy Fisher, president of contractor Fisher Sand & Gravel, said there were a number of majors changes made to the project as the work progressed, some because the design was done so quickly things had to be adjusted.

But Fisher brought in a second crew — going from 25 construction workers to 50 — and put in a “horrendous amount of overtime” to get the project done.

The transportation department’s initial completion date was Saturday, so the project is technically a few days late, but Lorenzi said the date was set to have a little wiggle room and the real goal was to clear out in time for holiday traffic.

The project isn’t completely over. Crews will have to return when the weather warms up to put down a final layer of pavement, paint and install guard rails. In the meantime, some minor work for lights, signs, landscaping and other extras will continue, but the lanes should stay open until the final paving work begins.

The speed limit on the road will also remain reduced to 35 mph until the entire project is over, Lorenzi said. However, the temporary ban on truck traffic during construction has been lifted.

And the transportation department is shifting its attention back to the long-term plans for the road. Even though the bottleneck is finally gone, the department still wants to build the Boulder City Bypass, a full freeway that will circle the city.

The first phase of that project, which is a new interchange for the U.S. 95/U.S. 93 split near Railroad Pass, is set to begin construction in less than a year.

The second phase of the project, the actual bypass, is being studied. The Legislature passed a law earlier this year paving the way for the bypass to become the first toll road in the state.

Lorenzi said they should know more in about six months on the status of that proposal.

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