Two years have passed since the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened over the Colorado River near the Hoover Dam.
When it was built, the $240 million, 1,900-foot bridge bypassed 3.5 miles of hairpin-turn roads dotted with pedestrians taking in views from the dam. A drive that once took 15 minutes suddenly took 15 seconds.
But few foresaw a major flaw in the project: When the new four-lane section of U.S. 93 opened, traffic jams formed in both directions on a 4.5-mile, two-lane uphill climb from the Hacienda resort to the traffic signal at Nevada Highway and Buchanan Boulevard in Boulder City.
It was a painful experience for Boulder City residents. It took the Nevada Department of Transportation two months to fix.
Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler now hopes that highway designers can anticipate jams as they move forward developing U.S. 93 into Interstate 11 and building a 14-mile possible toll loop around Boulder City.
“That route simply wasn’t built to handle that much traffic,” said Tobler, who is a member of Clark County's Regional Transportation Commission. “There still are some issues of traffic and mobility in our town, but it’s definitely better than it was.”
Tobler said the hang-up now is trucks backing up in both directions at the intersection of Nevada Highway and Buchanan, as well as at the traffic signal at Veterans Memorial Drive, as southbound traffic comes off the four-lane highway at the north end of town.
“There usually are five to six trucks stacked up during the day in the turn lanes,” Tobler said. “They’ve got to make a 90-degree turn, and it’s a little hard to negotiate.
Tobler said he doesn’t think the problem will go away until the intersection is redesigned, although getting trucks off of local streets would be a big help. He said that would occur if a tolled bypass is built.
Tobler figures truckers would rather use a bypass to avoid local Boulder City traffic, whereas residents and tourists would continue to use U.S. 93 because it is free and is the most direct route to Lake Mead.
“Obviously, we don’t want to see a decline in business as a result of a bypass, but I think the way it’s structured, we’ll still have people wanting to stop in Boulder City before they head to Lake Mead for recreation,” Tobler said.
There appears to be a small bump in the number of tourists coming to Boulder City since the bridge was built, but a spokesman for the Lake Mead National Recreation area said neither the National Park Service nor the Bureau of Reclamation track how many tourists have walked on the bridge to get a bird’s eye view of Hoover Dam from 900 feet above. The pedestrian trail to the Western Hemisphere’s longest single-span, concrete-arch bridge is a quarter-mile long and is decorated with plaques and displays explaining how it was built.
The next step in improving U.S. 93 already is under way.
The Nevada and Arizona departments of transportation are in the midst of a two-year I-11 and Intermountain West Corridor Study that includes a Phoenix-Las Vegas link, extensions south to Mexico and north to Canada. The I-11 corridor is being considered a potential multi-modal right-of-way with highway, rail, energy and telecommunications infrastructure.
Transportation officials will hold a public meeting on the project today in Henderson. It is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Henderson Convention Center, with a short presentation at 5:30 p.m.