Tuesday, May 23, 2017 | 2 a.m.
With naturally occurring asbestos present where a portion of Interstate 11 is being built, special care is being taken to protect workers and nearby residents.
Major portions of the project south of Henderson require digging and blasting to sculpt what will be the freeway. Maintaining air quality is essential, construction officials said during a tour of the site last week.
The work area was divided into 27 1-acre zones. Air quality monitors were spread out among the zones, and samples taken multiple times a day.
“We took somewhere around 14,000 air samples on this project,” said Gary Pons, corporate health and safety director for SCS Engineers. “It’s the biggest number of data points that I’ve ever been a part of in a project.”
In addition to air monitoring, the workforce is also routinely monitored. Workers with higher risks of asbestos exposure such as those who are moving dirt or building bridges as well as those with less risky jobs such as planning and fence placers are monitored.
“We’ve monitored every single work task that has gone on this project — every single person, every single job task on this project site, and we've not had one sample of what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would allow for an asbestos exposure for an employee. Not one,” Pons said.
Considering the amount of dirt moved, Pons said an incident was likely, but mitigation methods help.
“For a project of this size, if I was a betting man, I would have bet at the beginning that we might have one (asbestos-related incident), but I wouldn't have bet many,” he said. “We’re really proud of the fact that we haven’t had any.”
The project reuses materials generated onsite, mostly for surfacing.
“We have not had one stitch of soil that we have blasted and excavated (leave) the project site,” he said. “We’ve used it for grading and landscaping purposes and for building all of our bridges across the project. For a project of this size, that’s rare.”
Additionally, the project aims to keep the look of the landscaping natural; in areas where blasting occurred, workers sealed the rock left over to leave it with a natural feel.
Vegetation along the route in National Park Service land was removed and is being stored. It will be replanted periodically as the project progresses.
“They came through on the alignment we staked around three years ago, and they (National Park Service representatives) picked out the species of plants, cactus and things they wanted to save and pulled it over to a nursery,” said Luis Palor, professional engineer at the program management services for the Regional Transportation Commission. “They recently came back and planted about 5,000 plants. They’re big on the environmental impact.”
Steady progress has been made on the Interstate 11 project since its groundbreaking in 2015, all while ensuring safety protocols are in place.
The $318 million, 15-mile long project is being constructed in two phases simultaneously. The Nevada Department of Transportation is constructing Phase 1 (2.5 miles). The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is completing Phase 2 (12.5 miles).
The first 15 miles of Interstate 11 will first allow motorists to bypass Boulder City instead of using U.S. 93. Portions of existing routes and new stretches of freeway will eventually link Las Vegas and Phoenix and could ultimately stretch from Mexico to Canada.
The project marks the first new infrastructure to the 47,856-mile Interstate Highway System since it was deemed complete in 1992.
Both phases are expected to be completed by 2018, with Phase 1 scheduled for a January completion date, while Phase 2 is expected to be finished in October.