Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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Eastern Beltway’ is rerouted to the scrap pile

Tuesday morning, the Nevada Department of Transportation was recommending studying a proposal to build an "Eastern Beltway," extending the Las Vegas Beltway through communities in the eastern Las Vegas Valley.

By Tuesday evening, after scores of residents from those neighborhoods objected in two public meetings, that proposal was off the table.

Instead state transportation planners were promoting three alternatives to control expected traffic congestion: widen Interstate 15 from six to 10 lanes from the Spaghetti Bowl to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, widen and improve arterial streets throughout the northeast and improve mass transit in the area.

Even studying the Eastern Beltway sent waves of alarm through neighborhoods in Sunrise Manor and nearby. The proposal would have knocked down 1,000 to 1,500 homes and businesses and cost nearly $1 billion, NDOT staff estimated.

The proposal was offered in a larger study of traffic patterns and congestion in the northeast valley as a solution to gridlock expected in the area within 25 years.

Neighbors who would have been affected by the beltway extension turned out to the Clark County Commission meeting in the morning to express their concern. Hundreds more showed up in the evening to tell NDOT staff that they opposed a freeway through their mostly older, established communities.

Political leaders, including officials close to Gov. Kenny Guinn and the majority of Clark County commissioners, heard their voices.

Many of the residents who attended the commission meeting and informational meeting later in the day supported the three alternatives. But they emphatically did not support the Eastern Beltway concept.

"Any consideration at all of the Eastern Beltway is ridiculous," said Melanie Stambaugh, who lives near Sahara Avenue and Nellis Boulevard and attended both meetings. "The devastation it would have on thousands of lives outweighs any consideration.

"It's a beautiful neighborhood up there," Stambaugh said. "It's peaceful, quiet. And it would all go away."

Michael Dias, chairman of the Sunrise Manor Town Advisory Board, said opposition to the idea was widespread.

"We have found that there is no support for the Eastern Beltway," he told the County Commission. "It just doesn't make sense to create a 12-mile right-of-way through these communities. ... I think the whole idea of saying this should be studied further should be rejected at this point."

The commissioners agreed, asking county staff by consensus to abandon all thought of an Eastern Beltway and asking the state to do the same.

It was a turnaround for the board, which had asked NDOT to explore the possibility of the highway twice before -- in September 2000 and March 2001.

By evening, the state had curbed further beltway talk.

"From the direction of DOT management, we don't have any desire to continue study of this Eastern Beltway," NDOT Assistant Director Kent Cooper said Tuesday evening.

Cooper warned at the meeting that there is one way the Eastern Beltway could come back: If the state or region asked for federal money for a major transportation project that required an environmental impact statement for the area, all possible alternatives need to be explored. That would include a study of the beltway extension.

NDOT officials said the actions Tuesday, however, would make construction of the highway unlikely.

Cooper said the possibility of building the highway wasn't more than a preliminary proposal.

"It's unfortunate to me that this is the only element that everybody focused on," he said. "But the purpose of our informational meetings is for this kind of thing."

Assemblywoman Vonne S. Chowning, D-North Las Vegas, who represents some of the residents who could be affected by an Eastern Beltway, said she is happy that the state is looking at relief for anticipated traffic congestion in the northeast valley.

She noted that many of the residents who turned out for the meeting aren't opposed to all roadwork, just the extended beltway.

"I'm glad so many people are here," Chowning said. "This is democracy at work."