Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2018

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As work begins, delays expected at McCarran connector tunnel

Airport road construction

Drivers who use McCarran International Airport’s connector tunnel as a shortcut may need to find another route as the county reconfigures the roadway.

Airport officials hope that if local traffic avoids the tunnel, there will be fewer delays from construction in the tunnel and connecting roads.

“Over the next two years, McCarran contractors will be conducting additional road work that is necessary to improve roadway safety and tie the tunnel into the new Terminal 3 roadway system,” said Clark County Director of Aviation Randall Walker. “We recognize this work may cause delays, so we’re suggesting that drivers attempt to avoid this area unless they’re specifically coming to or from McCarran."

Beginning today, one lane of the northbound tunnel will be closed, leaving just two lanes for taxis, buses and other motorists. The closures will affect those who use the road to get to the airport and those who use the road as a shortcut to Swenson Street from Interstate 215.

The $22.2 million project will provide access to the airport’s new Terminal 3 and eliminate a loophole in current road design intended to make the roadway safer.

With the current road setup, traffic not going to the airport can stay to the right of the roadway to get to Swenson Street, which goes to the Thomas & Mack Center and on to the resort corridor after passing traffic signals at Russell Road and Tropicana Avenue.

But some drivers have realized they can avoid stopping at the Russell Road signal by using the left lanes to go to the airport, then cutting over and getting onto Swenson with traffic leaving the terminals.

It’s a convenient shortcut, but creates a dangerous weaving area and slows traffic.

The new road design will still allow traffic to bypass the airport to get to Swenson, but will eliminate the loophole.

When the project is done, motorists will have two options as they come out of the tunnel: either bypass the airport completely or drive all the way through the terminals before they can get out to the local roads.

Airport officials feel no obligation to provide the shortcut for locals; the tunnel was built for airport traffic in the early 1990s using airport revenue, not local tax dollars.

“The Airport Connector has become a popular shortcut for local commuters traveling between southern portions of the Las Vegas Valley and points north of McCarran,” Walker said. “But many drivers who use the tunnel are probably unaware that these roadways were built by the Department of Aviation for the specific purpose of moving airport users more easily in and out of McCarran.”

A bypass will remain after the work is complete, it just won’t conflict as much with airport traffic.

The lane closure that begins Monday is only expected to last until January, but there will be ongoing construction in the area through summer 2011 which may cause delays.

Prior to the opening of the tunnel in December 1994, most traffic coming in and out of the airport used Paradise Road or Swenson Street to get to the airport from Tropicana Avenue.

Without the tunnel, those roads would have become severely congested in recent years as airport passenger levels increased to an annual peak of nearly 48 million, airport officials have said. Traffic numbers dropped last year to just over 44 million passengers as the economy contracted, according to department of aviation records.

The new $2.4 billion airport expansion under construction now is expected to open in 2012 and will ultimately allow the airport to sustain capacity of approximately 53 million arriving and departing passengers per year.

The Nevada Department of Transportation plans to eventually make improvements to the interchange between the airport connector road and Interstate 215, a separate project from the airport’s current plans.

But that project is low on the priority list and won’t happen for a number of years, spokesman Bob Mckenzie said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the total cost of the project, which is $22.2 million. | (October 19, 2009)

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