Thursday, March 2, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Construction of the first 15 miles of Interstate 11, which will link Las Vegas to Phoenix and could eventually stretch from Mexico to Canada, is making progress.
The Nevada Department of Transportation is in charge of the 2.5-mile phase one, while the Regional Transportation Commission is heading the 12.5-mile phase two. Both phases have been under construction since 2015 and are expected to be completed by 2018.
The first phase of the $318 million Interstate 11 project is about 60 percent complete, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation. NDOT’s phase is projected to make up $83 million of the project's total cost.
NDOT’s portion of the Interstate 11 project calls for a four-lane concrete interstate freeway route south and west of Boulder City.
“We opted to use concrete pavement due to its longevity, which, federally funded studies show, costs 13 to 28 percent less in the long run than asphalt,” NDOT spokesman Tony Illia said. “It also reduces rutting and potholes, thereby cutting maintenance expenses by up to 75 percent.”
The stretch will allow motorists to bypass the main street through Boulder City, alleviating frequent bottlenecks and quickening the drive between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
“The interstate improves motorist safety and convenience while reducing travel time by 30 minutes with a direct link that has higher travel speeds and no signal lights,” Illia said. “It marks the first new infrastructure to the 47,856-mile Interstate Highway System since it was deemed complete in 1992.”
Other project features include creating a 1.5-mile-long asphalt frontage road linking Henderson with the Railroad Pass interchange, with a 600-foot-long, two-lane, cast-in-place flyover bridge from southbound Interstate 11 to eastbound U.S. 93 toward Boulder City.
Construction on a 1,200-foot-long, 28-foot-tall, cast-in-place concrete retaining wall is finished. Work begins next month on the wall design with graphics depicting scenes from the construction of Hoover Dam.
“The textured, multicolored retaining wall is the corridor’s main visual element; it will be coated with a special anti-graffiti film that serves as a deterrent for taggers,” Illia said. “Phase one will also reconnect the railroad tracks previously severed by U.S. 93 by building a 360-foot-long bridge that allows the mainline freeway to pass underneath.”
Phase one will also replant 20,000 cacti, place decorative rock and install five miles of tortoise fencing.
A steel prefabricated pedestrian bridge is also being built that connects the River Mountains Loop Trail and the Henderson trail systems.
About 200 workers were onsite during the peak of activity of phase one, including subcontractors and suppliers. Two lanes of traffic will remain open in both directions throughout construction. The project is on schedule with an anticipated completion by December.
General contractor Fisher Sand & Gravel has moved more than 1 million cubic yards of earth or enough dirt to fill 400 average-size swimming pools.
The corridor in which the 2.5-mile-long project is located sees 34,000 vehicles daily with heavy truck traffic. The construction of a full diamond interchange at Railroad Pass with a loop ramp is also included in the plans.
The possible extension between Mexico and Canada is the long-term goal of the Interstate 11 project, but the full funding, routing and buildout are decades away from coming to fruition.
The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) oversees the second phase of the Interstate 11 project, which is scheduled to last until 2018. Phase two is budgeted for $235 million.
The RTC is constructing a 12.5-mile portion of Interstate 11 from U.S. 95 to U.S. 93 near the Hoover Dam. Las Vegas Paving is the general contractor on the project.
“We have approximately five miles of the alignment paved, and we anticipate doing a big share of the paving this summer up through the Eldorado Mountains,” said Jared Wagstaff, project manager at Las Vegas Paving. “We are in the process of completing major earthwork operations in regard to the excavations through the Eldorado Mountains. We anticipate to have the bulk of that done within the next couple of weeks.”
The project sees blasting once a week as part of this portion, with drainage structures also being installed.
“Our blasting operations are nearly complete. Just a handful of blasts remain,” Wagstaff said.
The RTC said that 674 of the 1,155 contracted work days (58.35 percent have been completed on phase two of the project.
Ten of the 11 bridges included in the plans are under construction, with two almost completed..
The RTC is going to use a mix of concrete and gravel for its paving.
“We’re going to do both (concrete and gravel paving),” Wagstaff said. “It’s called Portland Concrete Cement Paving and we are going to actually start this week for our portion of it. It will be west of U.S. 95 and will take approximately a month to complete.”
The bulk of the project is asphalt paving, and Wagstaff said that paving was done late last year and will resume by the end of this year.
Phase two’s contracted completion date was set for October 2018, but the project is on track to finish in June, barring any unforeseen setbacks.
Possible railroad extension
Union Pacific Railroad previously had a spur connecting Henderson and Boulder City, through the Railroad Pass in southeast Henderson.
NDOT paved over the at-grade crossing of the railroad tracks 1998. The junction’s sharp angle, high highway speeds and low track usage made it a dangerous crossing that was prime for elimination, according to NDOT.
However, the rail’s historical significance and its future potential as an excursion or commuter line justified preserving the route, according to NDOT.
The initial phase of Interstate 11 project will create a new grade separation with a 360-foot-long bridge that allows the freeway to pass underneath so that the rail line may be once again reach Boulder City via Railroad Pass.
Boulder City is considering extending its Nevada Southern Railway excursion ride to Henderson, which would transport guests to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in the city.
“The bridge over I-11 will be the first step in extending our railroad,” said Randall Hees, director of Nevada State Railroad Museum. “Our track ownership ends at the bridge. The city of Henderson owns the track from the bridge to about the Fiesta casino. To operate beyond, we will need permission from the city of Henderson.”
Henderson spokesman Keith Paul said that the city has had preliminary conversations with Boulder City about the railroad concept.
Hees said that he expects the extension to initially go over the bridge, to East Paradise Drive, but could extend farther depending on the circumstances.
“The city of Henderson has asked about us offering shuttle service for some city events,” he said. “The tracks get within a few hundred yards of the upper end of Water Street and City Hall.”