Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2017

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Zipper merging to be emphasized in Project Neon’s latest lane closures

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L.E. Baskow

Traffic backs up along the I-15 northbound and onto the 95 northbound as the rain continues to fall across the Las Vegas region on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.

Motorists who see signs their lane is closing and habitually merge far in advance will soon be advised to wait a bit and to take turns merging using more of the remaining pavement.

That’s the goal of the Nevada Department of Transportation as it plans for another major closure associated with Project Neon.

A press conference is slated for next month to unveil the name of the second lane closure phase and educate drivers on how to minimize the traffic impact as much as possible.

“There will be a whole branding around it,” NDOT spokesperson Tony Illia said. “What we’re trying to do is to teach people to zipper merge.”

Zipper merging is the lane-merging tactic that involves using the entire lane that is being merged, to cut down on the traffic back up associated with squeezing traffic into reduced lanes.

“The problem is, is when people see the merge ahead, they all try to get over and you have all that unused pavement,” Illia said. “So it’s not an efficient flow of traffic, so we're trying to encourage people to go, I go you go, I go you go, all the way down.

“But trying to change a driving behavior, that’s a tall order,” Illia said.

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NDOT is planning additional signs to clarify when motorists should start merging ahead of a lane closure.

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NDOT is hoping to persuade motorists to imagine a zipper when merging.

The yet-to-be-named closure comes on the heels of the Nevada Department of Transportation’s “Car-Nado” closure, which has restricted access from Interstate 15 to U.S. 95 North since October, wraps up at the end of the month.

The next round of lane closures associated with the almost $1 billion Project Neon will restrict travel on U.S. 95 to two lanes in each direction between Rancho Road and the Spaghetti Bowl from mid-March until December.

The delays from the narrowing of the portion of U.S. 95 are expected to be some of the most trying of the project.

“The worst in terms of traffic constrictions, yeah,” Illia said. “They’re going to be more impactful than the road closures we’ve seen thus far.”

Project Neon, which calls for widening of 3.7 miles on Interstate 15, is on schedule and on budget, spending $128 million of the $559 million design-build construction contract.

The third major lane closure will take place in 2018, when lane reductions occur on Interstate 15.

Construction days associated with Project Neon are 34 percent complete, with 460 of the 1,338 planned days worked. Twenty-two percent of the work associated with the project is complete, while 12 percent of construction is complete.

NDOT still must acquire the last of three of the 190 parcels required for Project Neon’s improvements. Of the 190, only 26 cases of eminent domain were made, of which only two have gone to trial. The rest have either settled or regained occupancy through the court.

In other Project Neon news:

• The Nevada Board of Examiners Tuesday closed the deal for the state to pay $5.8 million for 1.5 acres on Interstate 15 to clear the way for continued construction of Project Neon. The board agreed to allocate $1.3 million to add to the $4.5 million already set aside by the state Transportation Department for the property owned by the Robarts 1981 Trust. The land includes two apartment complexes at 701 Desert Lane and 700 S. Martin Luther King Blvd. The property owners initially wanted $410 million for the property. The property is needed to proceed with widening of Interstate 15.

• The State Treasurer’s Office has sold $167.6 million in revenue bonds to continue the financing of Project Neon in Las Vegas. Out of eight bidders, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch won the bid for the 17-year bonds to be paid off by the fuel tax. The interest is 3.46 percent.

Check the Project Neon website or Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages (@NDOTProjectNeon) for up-to-date information. There is also a hotline available in both English and Spanish at: 702-293-NEON (6366).

Las Vegas Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.

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