Thursday, Dec. 6, 2001 | 8:28 a.m.
In 1997 Clark County officials received some criticism for not seeking federal funds to help start the construction of the Las Vegas Beltway, a $1.5 billion project that would create a 53-mile loop around the Las Vegas Valley. At the time the officials really had no other choice, though, unless they wanted to live with the delays from having to wait for the completion of federally required environmental studies. In addition, federal funds aren't released until an entire project is designed, but the precise path of the beltway wasn't known several years ago because of the uncertainty of exactly where the population would grow fastest. Forgoing federal funds, then, also allowed the county the flexibility to shift the route to fit the area's needs.
Today the beltway starts at U.S. 95 in the southeastern part of the valley and goes west before heading north until it ends at Cheyenne Avenue (once the beltway is finished, it will extend east past Cheyenne until it connects with Interstate 15). So far 33 miles of the beltway have been built at a cost of roughly $470 million. The beltway has relieved some of the congestion by diverting motorists onto it who otherwise would have used I-15 and U.S. 95. But the route isn't a full-fledged beltway yet -- there still are traffic signals at several points. And the beltway itself has pockets of gridlock due to its popularity.
Now that a rudimentary beltway is in place, county officials are doing the right thing by submitting the necessary studies so that they can receive federal funding to make needed improvements to ease the congestion on some sections of the beltway, especially at two nettlesome points during rush hour. A lane would be added in both directions along the beltway between Stephanie Street and U.S. 95, and the beltway would be made into a full-fledged highway from Decatur to Rainbow Boulevard. Instead of waiting for a decade to secure enough local funding to build the two highway projects, they instead could be completed in just two years if federal funding is secured.
In the late 1990s Clark County had to use unconventional means to relieve the worsening traffic congestion, even if it meant forgoing federal funds. But the current beltway only is a Band-Aid and it's encouraging to see the county seek federal funding for a route that could make a dent in traffic congestion.