Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2018

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Eastern beltway on the table

Building a new section of the beltway is one proposal on the table to connect highways and reduce expected traffic congestion in the northeast Las Vegas Valley.

But consultants and government officials said this week that the proposal is only one alternative from several proposals to reduce traffic congestion in the area.

Consultants and government agencies are looking for a way to connect the Las Vegas Beltway and Interstate 15 to U.S. 95 about 8 miles south, essentially designing a route going west and south of Nellis Air Force Base.

Roger Patton, a traffic-planning consultant with Louis Berger Group Inc., said extending the beltway from north of the Air Force base to U.S. 95 would take at least 10 years. The Nevada Department of Transportation paid the Berger group $940,000 for the study, which examines possible traffic needs through 2025.

The study said area roadways will not be able to handle the number of vehicles on the road by then. He suggested a number of possible road projects to reduce capacity.

"The main purpose of this study is to determine which alternatives should be gone into in greater depth," Patton said.

Early feedback from the community supported alternatives other than a new beltway section. Patton said about 70 percent of those who attended a community meeting supported widening I-15, one of the principal alternatives.

About 60 percent said building "super-arterials," streamlined streets such as Desert Inn Road over the Strip, would be a good way to reduce traffic congestion. Improving mass transit was supported by about 55 percent, Patton said.

About 40 percent of the 75 people who attended the community meeting supported a new eastern beltway, he said.

Patton said building a new beltway section through the area could be difficult because the northeast is a relatively developed area, so buying a right-of-way could be a significant hurdle.

In the south, west and north, Clark County has been able to buy rights-of-way on what is mostly open desert for the existing and planned beltway. The beltway, also known as Interstate 215, is a $650 million, county-funded project. About 30 miles of roadway will run along the southern, western and northern parts of the valley, creating a partial loop.

The beltway is a mix of roads, from divided six-lane highway to two lanes.

Building the existing beltway had broad political support. An eastern beltway is likely to have political opposition.

"Absolutely no way," said Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates. "We can't destroy neighborhoods just to provide access."

She noted that some of the mixed-income neighborhoods an eastern beltway may run through are comprised of largely of Hispanic or black residents.

"If they think they are going to cut up the African-American community, they've got another thing coming," Gates said.

Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, who also represents a district that a new beltway segment or other road option would go through, agreed. Too many would have to move to make room for a new highway.

"At this stage of the game, it would be almost impossible," she said. "It's highly developed. There are a lot of homes and businesses there."

Las Vegas Councilman Gary Reese said he hasn't formed a firm opinion on the issue. His district could be heavily affected by any of the alternatives now being studied.

He said traffic is a problem in his ward, although not as significant a problem as seen in other parts of the valley. Reese said any final decision -- likely years down the road -- will have to consider all positives and negatives.

"Anything they do down here will cost a lot of money," he noted.

Patton, with Berger Group, said it is very, very early in the planning process to speculate on the ultimate look of a new road system for the northeast.

Even after planners target a specific approach to relieving traffic congestion, any road building would first have to hurdle a federally mandated environmental review, which would take three to four years, Patton said.

Issues affecting neighborhoods would take center stage at that point. Following an environmental impact statement, the federal, state and local governments would make a final decision to go forward with construction.

"There are no specific plans, designs or timeframes," agreed Bobby Shelton, a spokesman for the Clark County Public Works Department.