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Chris Jones

Plan to Improve Interstate 15 Traffic May Finish Sooner Than Once Forecast

9 August 2006

Leaving Las Vegas isn't as easy as it once was.

Neither is getting here nor moving around once you've arrived.

Still, local travel leaders received some good news Tuesday on a $23.6 million highway improvement project that's certain to cause headaches for Southern Nevada visitors and businesses alike.

Plans to improve a 4.2-mile portion of Interstate 15 near Devore, Calif., could take half as much time to complete as was once expected.

In addition, reports that claimed the project would require simultaneous shutdowns in both directions were inaccurate, transportation expert Thomas Skancke told the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board.

The Devore 2 improvement plan affects the highway where I-15 and Interstate 215 meet at Devore, a small community located south of the Cajon Pass.

The California Department of Transportation plans to address Devore's continuing bottlenecks by repaving the roadway and adding a northbound truck climbing lane.

"It's a huge project," Skancke said.

Most of the work, which will shut down portions of the roadway for hours at a time, will occur in the evening hours from Monday through Thursday to minimize interruptions on one of the nation's most important commercial corridors.

But some of the work will likely necessitate closures over nine upcoming weekends, a prospect that's scary to Las Vegas casinos that greatly depend on Friday-through-Sunday visits by Southern Californians.

Good news arrived, Skancke said, when Caltrans selected San Diego-based Coffman Specialties to handle the project.

The company is already familiar with the area through recent work it completed near Devore. And it hopes to complete the job in 100 days, well below the 210-day limit specified in Caltrans' original bid.

Dates for the weekend closures could be announced as soon as next week, with some shutdowns likely to occur late this summer or in early fall.

Work will halt over the winter, when temperatures aren't suitable for pouring concrete, before resuming sometime next spring, Skancke added.

None of the closures would simultaneously shut down traffic in both directions, Skancke emphasized. But northbound or southbound lanes will alternately be closed to all traffic during certain work periods, forcing travelers to detour.

To minimize expected disruptions, Caltrans has agreed to notify the authority at least two weeks before any weekend closures.

The authority would then use the news media, television, radio and print ads to inform potential drivers of the closures in advance of their trips.

Last year, 29 percent of Las Vegas' nearly 38.6 million visitors were from Southern California. That includes drive-ins and visitors who arrived by plane.

Overall, 53 percent of last year's visitors came here by car, bus or motor home.

The authority board on Tuesday extended its contract with Skancke's firm through Sept. 30, 2007; next year's agreement is valued at $423,360.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a request to pay HNTB Nevada $329,362 to study ways to better move visitors in and around Southern Nevada's increasingly congested resort corridor.

The study would examine options such as expanding the Las Vegas Monorail route, adding more taxi and buses or widening Interstate 15. Researchers will also look into how visitors arrive in the city, what brings them here and how they now get around.

"Our customers are talking to us about (difficulties in) just getting people to the convention center from the airport, from the resorts to the convention center," said Jim Gans, the authority's senior vice president of operations. "We've got some problems."

Board member Tom Jenkin questioned whether the survey's findings would be useful because the convention authority plays a limited role in local transportation issues.

But authority President Rossi Ralenkotter said news of the pending study was warmly received by pertinent local agencies and would provide "a backbone" for future efforts in developing an integrated transportation network in Southern Nevada.

The 40-square-mile area covered by the study is bounded by St. Rose Parkway on the south, U.S. Highway 95 on the north, Maryland Parkway on the east and Decatur Boulevard on the west. HNTB's research is expected to take six months.