Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2018

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Sunken, six-lane beltway called cost-prohibitive

Despite pressure from Clark County commissioners to build more of the Las Vegas Beltway below-grade to accommodate higher speed traffic, Public Works engineers said Tuesday the astronomically high cost would prohibit the county from changing its strategy.

Engineers were directed earlier this month to explore the cost of building a six-lane sunken highway on some stretches rather than the four-lane temporary road like many segments now open on the beltway.

In 1996, the board decided not to build the full six-lane highway so it could at least open a temporary 53-mile beltway that surrounds most of the Las Vegas Valley by the end of 2003. The original plan was to complete the highway by 2020.

Earlier this month Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey asked Public Works officials if a six-mile segment between El Capitan Way and Cheyenne Avenue could be excavated to accommodate six lanes -- a move that contradicts the county's accelerated beltway plan.

The commissioner's goal was to tear up the desert terrain in her district and disturb residents once, rather than building a road and later returning to excavate.

To build a sunken highway along the 6-mile stretch would push the cost from $22.1 million to $50.7 million -- that price tag excludes the cost to build a drainage system alongside the highway.

"We don't want to build another Charleston underpass," Public Works spokesman Bobby Shelton said, referring to constant flooding woes during rain storms. "We want to build facilities that drain properly; that's our main concern."

Public Works engineers said if commissioners are dead set on changing the beltway strategy, the county essentially has three options. It can rescind contracts already awarded for the northern section, submit a change-order or stop construction until the county has enough money to build a full-fledged highway.

Shelton said the last option was never likely. Since 1993, the county has spent about $650 million building the highway and to build a six-lane highway would cost hundreds of millions more.

"We're not allowed to put money in the bank and let it collect interest when it's earmarked for a specific project," Shelton said.

Public Works official said the temporary beltway costs about $2 million a mile to build; the full six-lane sunken highway costs about $16 million a mile. The county's strategy for most of the beltway has been to build two lanes in each direction and then excavate for the highway in between the roads so construction will not interrupt traffic.

Commissioners said Tuesday they will continue with the accelerated plan that calls for an interim beltway. If more funding becomes available, the board will look at sections of the highway that can be sunken.