Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Looking in on: transportation:

I-15 not getting any wider, so other solutions studied

Transportation

Leila Navidi

Carl Hagelman, right, Station Casinos’ senior director of design, and Layne Brandhagen, a consultant to Station Casinos, look at maps of Interstate 15 on Wednesday at Clark High School during a public hearing on the I-15 Resort Corridor Study.

Transportation officials just spent 19 months studying how to prepare for a future surge in traffic on the Las Vegas Valley’s already congested stretch of Interstate 15.

Jacobs Engineering, a traffic consultant to the state Transportation Department, predicts that between the southern beltway and the Spaghetti Bowl, I-15 will see 80 percent more traffic in 2030 than it did in 2006. Such staggering growth would prove vexing no matter the location — but it’s especially worrisome given that there will soon be no more space available to expand that portion of the freeway.

And as we note in today’s Page 8 Daily Memo, a double-deck freeway is no longer an option.

This is a good year to consider I-15’s future because area development has stalled and the valley’s population is no longer booming. In 13 of the past 15 months, commuter and tourist traffic to Las Vegas was down from the same months of the prior year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

But when the economy improves, freight traffic will pick up and development will revive, spurring another migration here. That will further clog a freeway that acts as a local and regional corridor — and a primary route for commuters.

“We can’t eliminate congestion,” said Bryan Gant, a program manager for Jacobs. “It’s all about managing it.”

“Managed lanes” are being built along I-15, probably as high-occupancy vehicle lanes. (The Legislature nixed a plan to turn these public lanes into private toll lanes.) “Drop ramps” could connect drivers on these restricted lanes to new interchanges, perhaps at Harmon Avenue and Oakey Boulevard.

Among the other concepts being considered to clear up traffic in the resort corridor: ramps to and/or from interior lanes along I-15; a Sunset Road overpass without freeway ramps, a direct thoroughfare along portions of Russell Road and Koval Lane which could be akin to the airport connector, and widening of Valley View Boulevard south of Harmon Avenue.

Improving freeway frontage roads also would help, officials say. Frontage roads tend to be used primarily by locals, but ideally, these would act as alternative access points for tourists to hotels along the Strip.

•••

Minutes after a frustrated Clark County Commission approved a tentative budget Monday, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee recommended gutting a capital fund meant to improve Las Vegas Valley highways.

This loss would be on top of the property tax revenue the state was set to take from the county, Clark County lobbyist Sabra Smith-Newby said.

The county offered the infrastructure money as a substitute to that property tax revenue, she said. Instead, legislators on the committee decided to recommend that the state dip into both pots of money.

Monday’s action means the county could lose about $50 million intended for roads projects, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said.

•••

Given the uncertainty in the banking industry, McCarran International Airport officials are maneuvering to try to ensure they have some flexibility for ongoing projects. The airport is seeking up to $600 million in new money to allow for that wiggle room.

Randall Walker, Clark County’s director of aviation, said the airport is “watching closely the banks that we have financial instruments with.”

McCarran officials also want to refund $400 million in bond debt related to the construction of Terminal 3. Scheduled to open in 2012, Terminal 3 costs at least $2.4 billion and will accommodate international and domestic traffic through 14 gates.

Clark County commissioners are scheduled to consider the airport’s requests at their meeting today.

Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann contributed to this report.

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