Wednesday, March 15, 2017 | 10:12 a.m.
The next phase of closures related to Project Neon might be labeled “The Big Squeeze,” but for drivers it might as well be referred to as the big pain.
The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced the Big Squeeze portion of the almost $1 billion, multiphase Project Neon this morning.
The Big Squeeze will reduce U.S. 95 from three travel lanes to two — four before the Interstate 15 merge point — in each direction between Rancho Drive and the Spaghetti Bowl interchange in downtown Las Vegas starting at 9 p.m. Monday.
Lanes will be closed for 300 days or almost 10 months for improvements related to Project Neon. The work is part of the 3.7-mile-long widening of Interstate 15 from the U.S. 95 interchange to Sahara Avenue. The project is more than a third of the way complete.
Work will take place six days a week and on some Sundays.
The Big Squeeze is forecast to have a larger affect on traffic than its predecessor, “Car-Nado” during peak hours, as 10,000 drivers per hour will be affected by the lane closures. Car-Nado impacted up to 2,000 cars an hour.
“U.S. 95 holds about 200,000 vehicles that travels that section of freeway,” Project Neon project manager Dale Keller said. “So this impact will be greater.”
The major feature of the Big Squeeze is an 81-foot-tall, 2,606-foot-long high occupancy vehicle (HOV) flyover structure joining U.S. Highway 95 with Interstate 15.
The 18-span, two-lane precast concrete bridge is supported by 19 columns and will help create 22 adjoining miles of carpool lanes between U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 15.
A span is the distance between two bridge supports. Because this bridge is about a half-mile long, there are 18 spaces — or spans — between the supporting structures that make up the length of the bridge structure.
Crews will also redo a 1-mile portion of U.S. Highway 95’s concrete pavement, which hasn’t been upgraded in 25 years.
Surface street travel is recommended to bypass the traffic snarl expected from the Big Squeeze.
For southbound traffic, Valley View Boulevard, Decatur Boulevard and Rancho Drive are recommended alternatives. For northbound traffic, motorists can take either take Las Vegas Boulevard or Eastern Avenue.
To attempt to alleviate some of the bottleneck created by the lane restrictions, NDOT is also implementing zipper merging. The merging technique involves cars alternating turns to move into the through lane of traffic.
Traffic signs will be placed on the roadway near the Big Squeeze site to alert drivers about the upcoming restrictions and to remind them to use the zipper merging technique.
“We’re asking you to zip it, and take turns to move faster,” Keller said.
Early merging leaves an unused portion of travel lanes, creating a longer traffic backup. Zipper merging is safer and 40 percent faster than early merging, according to NDOT. The technique can also result in less anxiety and frustration for drivers.
Additionally, the department is using FAST (Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation) to develop digital sign notifications as well as ramp and signal timing during the 300-day closure. It will closely monitor eight corridors with 70 signals through 35 freeway and arterial cameras, making real-time adjustments as necessary, depending on the traffic ebb and flow.
Drivers can use their smartphones in a pair of ways to stay on top of the Big Squeeze and Project Neon. To see traffic conditions ahead of time and to find an alternate route, NDOT recommends using the Waze app.
“The best way to find the fastest alternative route is the Waze app,” Keller said. “It’s a free download, and it includes traffic impact and closures the Regional Transportation Commission and NDOT add, so you just plug in your final destination in your phone, and it will find you the fastest way possible.”
NDOT is also rolling out its Project Neon app as the Big Squeeze begins which can keep motorists update on everything surrounding the project.
“It will provide real-time information to you and you can sign up for push notifications on your phone, which will send information on upcoming closures, current closures, accidents inside the corridor and provide any delay information,” Keller said. “It’s a great resource to have at your fingertips.”
The Freeway Service Control Program (FSP) recently added a flatbed tow truck to its fleet, and that will be on standby for any stranded motorist in the Big Squeeze work zone.
“FSP will take the vehicles involved and take them off the freeway system, and the driver will be responsible for towing it away from there,” Keller said.
The third and final phase of closures will occur next year, leading up to completion of the project.
Project Neon is on schedule and slated to be complete by the fall of 2019.
Downtown Las Vegas access will not be affected, and the Interstate 15 northbound to U.S. Highway 95 northbound ramp exit to Rancho Drive will remain open.
Motorists should use caution while traveling through the work zone, heed construction signage and take alternate routes, if possible, NDOT officials said.
Big League Weekend
NDOT will coordinate special event access with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for events such as Big League Weekend March 25-26 at Cashman Field.
Jim Gemma, media relations director for the Las Vegas 51s, says he expects both games between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds to be packed with fans
“The two games have been sold out for over a month,” Gemma said, expecting the total attendance to be 22,000.
As far as the possible traffic-related issues associated with the Big Squeeze, Gemma explained his advice is not different than it is for any other game.
“We always ask fans to arrive early at the ballpark, especially with the seemingly ongoing road projects all over the city,” he said. “Hopefully, since the games are on Saturday and Sunday, the road closure on U.S. 95 will have minimal effect. But again. ...”
Keller echoed those statements, saying that best route to Cashman Field is likely through the construction zone.
Check the Project Neon website, or the Twitter page @NDOTProjectNeon for up-to-date information. A hotline is also available in both English and Spanish at 702-293-6366.
Other closures associated with the upgrades
March 23–June 21
U.S. Highway 95 Northbound / Rancho Drive Exit
The U.S. 95 northbound exit ramp to Rancho Drive will be closed for about 90 days, beginning March 23.
Martin Luther King Boulevard / U.S. Highway 95
Martin Luther King Boulevard will be closed in both directions between Bonanza Road and U.S. 95 from 10 p.m. March 24 through 5 a.m. March 27 for bridge demolition.
The Martin Luther King Boulevard onramp to U.S. 95 northbound will be closed, as well as the Martin Luther King Boulevard off-ramp.
• Closure: 300 days; or roughly 10 months
• HOV bridge length: 2,606 feet; or, about half-a-mile
• HOV bridge width: Two lanes
• HOV Bridge height: 81 feet
• HOV bridge columns: 19
• HOV bridge spans: 18 spans between supports (abutments and columns) varying in length from 125 feet to 160 feet.
• HOV bridge girders: 90
• Traffic count: 219,000 vehicles daily; or, up to 10,000 cars per hour
• Concrete paving: 1 mile