Monday, Sept. 12, 2011 | 5:49 p.m.
Prostitution isn’t legal in Las Vegas, but the Interstate 15 freeway has become a red light district of its own.
Interstate 15 was a sea of brake lights Monday thanks to a major repaving project that has left as few as two lanes open in each direction between Tropicana Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl.
It’s too early to know how bad the traffic problems are going to be for the next six weeks while the project progresses, but the first day proved there will be delays for motorists traveling through the resort corridor.
The lane closures will be in effect from 7 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Thursday for five to six weeks. All lanes should be reopened for weekend travel, and once the project is done, I-15 will have smoother, quieter lanes.
In the meantime, the $6 million project effectively cuts the capacity of the busiest freeway in the state in half, affecting thousands of commuters as well as commercial truck traffic.
In July, an average of 262,182 vehicles traveled daily on I-15 at the Sahara Avenue interchange, according to data from the Nevada Department of Transportation.
The department said it picked September and October to do the work because that’s when traffic volumes are typically lowest in the area.
While the main construction period has just begun, the project is on track and lane closures were implemented as planned, NDOT spokeswoman Michelle Booth said.
The project’s proximity to the I-15 Design-Build South Project isn’t helping since that project has closed lanes on the freeway from Tropicana south past the Blue Diamond Road interchange.
Motorists apparently didn’t get the message that transportation officials suggest they stay away from the freeway corridor for the next few weeks. Congestion Monday morning was especially bad where traffic from U.S. 95 merges onto southbound I-15, said Brian Hoeft, the director of the Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation, or FAST.
The morning commute typically sees the most congestion of the day, but problems continued all day Monday, with parts of the freeway moving at speeds below 15 mph at 4:50 p.m.
FAST, a division of the Regional Transportation Commission, monitors traffic throughout the valley using road sensors and cameras. It then uses dynamic message signs and email and cell phone text alerts to warn motorists of congestion and adjusts traffic signals and freeway ramp meters to try to make things flow more smoothly.
The agency is watching the construction project and making adjustments, but Hoeft still suggests people avoid the area and plan on extra travel time.
“Whatever we have available in our toolbox, we’ll see what we can do,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to do miracles, but I think hopefully we can take the edge off some of what people are facing.”
Hoeft said although freeway congestion occurred on I-15, the arterial streets in the area have been smooth sailing. While there are still traffic lights to worry about, it’s better than congestion on the freeway, Hoeft said.
He said he drove on Decatur Boulevard, which runs parallel to the freeway, twice on Monday and saw no traffic problems.
“It’s not going to be this ride where you’re not going to stop at all,” he said, “But it was a functional route, it wasn’t a route that was succumbing to gridlock.”