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September 22, 2017

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Project to relieve Boulder City traffic put on fast track


Justin M. Bowen

Vehicles travel toward Henderson on U.S. 93 near Veterans Memorial Drive in Boulder City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011.

Boulder City Traffic

Traffic leaves town heading toward Henderson on U.S. 93 near Veterans Memorial Drive in Boulder City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Hoover Dam Bypass Project

The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge section of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project is seen just south of the Hoover Dam on Aug. 19, 2010. Launch slideshow »

It normally takes 45 days from the time the Nevada Transportation Department awards a contract to the time the contractor gets the final OK to start construction — unless the project is in Boulder City.

The Transportation Department awarded a contract to Fisher Sand & Gravel on July 26 to improve U.S. 93 through Boulder City.

The $15.9 million project is a temporary, emergency fix for traffic woes that came after the Hoover Dam bypass bridge opened last fall.

Fisher already is doing startup work, although construction is waiting for paperwork from the state, including the governor’s signature.

“The second it’s signed we’ll be moving on the job,” Tommy Fisher, president of the company, said at a public meeting on the project Thursday afternoon.

The go-ahead should come by Aug. 11, just 16 days after the contract was awarded.

The contractor normally has two weeks to submit the required bonds to the state. This time, it was done in two days.

Fisher already is getting everything in place, applying for permits and getting subcontractors lined up. “We’re mobilizing equipment as we speak,” he said.

The project will widen about five miles of U.S. 93 where a bottleneck slows traffic on the main route between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Boulder City has long been the gateway to the Hoover Dam, part of the highway link between Southern Nevada and Arizona. But after Sept. 11, 2001, trucks were banned from crossing the dam, keeping a lot of traffic off the route as Southern Nevada grew.

With the opening of the Hoover Dam Bypass, and the centerpiece Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, in October, trucks returned to the route, causing backups, especially on weekends and holidays.

When Arizona students were on spring break earlier this year, there were backups every day for a week, Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler said.

The state has long hoped to build a freeway around Boulder City to bypass the stoplights and side streets, but funding has been short and the project hasn’t happened.

So after loud complaints from Tobler late last year, the Transportation Department developed a quick-fix plan to widen U.S. 93 so it is two lanes from Las Vegas to Arizona.

While the plan pleased Boulder City officials, leaders in Bullhead City, Ariz., were upset. They didn’t want trucks rerouted through their city near Laughlin while the construction takes place.

Project Manager Tony Lorenzi met with officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation and Bullhead City to find a solution — just some trucks will be banned and only on certain days and during certain hours.

Despite the angry rhetoric, everyone left the meeting in Bullhead City pleased, Lorenzi said.

“We left there and they were happy,” he said.

So crews will soon be working on U.S. 93, which will probably create more of a mess for Boulder City residents, but only for a little while. The department hopes to have the project done by Nov. 19, before the holiday travel season.

“This is a tall order. We have a lot of work to do in three months,” Fisher said. But it will get done on time, he said.

Tobler said he’s happy to see the work begin, but he’s not entirely satisfied with the project.

“This is short-term relief. But in the long run, this isn’t our answer,” he said. “We still need the bypass.”

Lorenzi, who is also the project manager for the bypass, said construction on Phase 1 of that project is scheduled to begin late next year.

That phase, however, is just to build a small section of the road at Railroad Pass, which will do nothing to solve the problems in Boulder City, Tobler said.

Phase 2 will be the actual freeway around Boulder City. That part of the project is still a long way off, although it could happen sooner than once expected since the Legislature passed a bill allowing the road to be the first toll road in the state.

The Transportation Department is meeting with the Regional Transportation Commission and the Federal Highway Administration later this month to discuss toll road possibilities, Lorenzi said.

Tobler is worried that even the tolls won’t generate enough money to build the whole project, but he is happy with the developments.

“Unfortunately, a crisis happened, but fortunately it did give us the exposure to get people on our side,” he said. “This isn’t just a Boulder City problem, it’s a regional issue. But Boulder has to bear the pain to bring it to light. We’re still feeling the pain.”

As for the current improvement project: “We’re excited to get this done, but we’ll see what it does,” he said.

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