Las Vegas Review-Journal December 6, 2021 – 9:00 pm
At the behest of Gov. Steve Sisolak, California has agreed to make more efficient use of Interstate 15 near the Nevada border, potentially easing the frustration of motorists — many weekend tourists to Las Vegas — traveling the chronically congested corridor.
Now if only Gov. Sisolak and the Nevada Department of Transportation showed similar consideration for Southern Nevada drivers forced to navigate local highway gridlock while HOV lanes sit half empty.
In a photo op at the border on Sunday with his Nevada counterpart, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state will spend $12 million to repave and re-stripe the southbound shoulder of I-15 south of Primm to create a third lane for use during peak travel times. The highway currently drops from three lanes to two when motorists enter the Golden State, creating backups that often stretch for 20 miles.
Las Vegas and Nevada officials have long sought such improvements as a way to keep visitor traffic flowing from Southern California, which provides about a quarter of the 40 million people who visit the Strip and environs each year.
Gov. Newsom said he was moved to act after a phone call from Gov. Sisolak. California has resisted improving the relatively remote stretch of I-15 simply for the convenience of tourists heading to Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Nevada has added lanes north of the border to ease regular traffic backups.
California’s move is welcome and long overdue. Good for Gov. Sisolak. It’s also an acknowledgment that drivers benefit when transportation officials make maximum use of existing freeway capacity. Why is it, then, that Gov. Sisolak and his administration’s traffic planners insist on adding highway lanes and flyovers throughout the Las Vegas Valley that are off limits to the vast majority of drivers?
Over the past decade, NDOT has spent tens of millions on high-occupancy vehicle lanes for U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 15, particularly near the Spaghetti Bowl. A lightly used HOV flyover connects U.S. 95 with the Summerlin Parkway. The agency has plans for more carpool-only lanes in its upgrades to improve traffic flow near Allegiant Stadium. In addition, NDOT officials in 2019 arbitrarily decreed that all such lane restrictions would be in place 24/7, not simply during peak travel times.
Transportation officials say the intent is to encourage car-pooling, but there’s scant evidence they have succeeded. While the pandemic has eased Las Vegas highway traffic somewhat, general use freeway lanes are often bumper to bumper at rush hour, while HOV lanes are relatively clear, populated more by scofflaws than ride-sharing commuters.
Getting full use out of California’s I-15 capacity south of Primm makes eminent sense. It’s time Gov. Sisolak implemented a similar approach for Las Vegas-area freeways.