The Streets Are Paved With Goals

Las Vegas’ roads, weathered by the recession, are finally getting the attention they need

Sign of the times: Road construction on Main Street. | Photo by Jon Estrada

Sign of the times: Road construction on Main Street. | Photo by Jon Estrada

Look at us, bucking the national trend. While much of America’s infrastructure is suffering from critical neglect, Southern Nevada is widening its roads, building bridges and even constructing a freeway bypass from Henderson to the Arizona state line. Much of this activity is being driven by the Fuel Revenue Index, a small gasoline surcharge (it averages out to about a dime a day, per driver) that will generate some $700 million in road-fixing revenue before it expires in December 2016.

But there’s another, more compelling reason that the streets around your home are torn up right now: They really, really need the face-lift. Most of the roadwork being done today is addressing problems that existed before the recession hit. “These are projects that were unfunded previously, and they’re all needed,” says David Swallow, director of engineering services-capital projects at the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. “Now we have the resources to put them out there.”

The list of current road projects is exhaustive, covering everything from pavement reconstruction and new curb ramps on Whitney Ranch Drive to the widening of Decatur Boulevard to four through lanes from Cactus Avenue to Warm Springs Road.

RTC, local officials and some Jubilee showgirls break ground on the Flamingo corridor project. | Photo courtesy RTC

RTC, local officials and some Jubilee showgirls break ground on the Flamingo corridor project. | Photo courtesy RTC

It’s tough to pick one piece of road construction as the poster child for our rebound from the recession, but the Flamingo Road project is as good a choice as any. Later this year, the more than $40 million worth of improvements will begin on nearly the entire length of Flamingo, from Boulder Highway to Hualapai Way. It’s a trigger that’s needed pulling for some time, Swallow says.

“Flamingo’s always been a priority corridor for us. It’s been consistently our busiest residential bus route, carrying more than 12,000 passengers per day,” Swallow says. He further notes that the street connects several key parts of the Valley: It runs along the northern edge of UNLV, past several high-density residential blocks and directly through “what we think is the epicenter of employment on Las Vegas Boulevard itself.”

One of the key objectives of the Flamingo project is to ensure that the people who work in that epicenter get to their jobs quickly and, more importantly, safely. Since a September 2012 tragedy in which a car plowed into a bus stop and killed four people waiting there, the RTC has made a mission of aggressively improving pedestrian safety along our streets. Swallow says the Flamingo work will include replacing some 100 bus “shelters,” moving them “as far back from the curb as possible within the available right-of-way.”

“It’s one thing to have a great transit service,” Swallow says. “It’s another thing to make sure that people can get to and from the transit stops safely.”

There are other aspects to the Flamingo redo that might matter more to some than to others: dedicated transit and bike lanes, similar to the ones the RTC added to Sahara Avenue in 2011; upgraded traffic signals; and “median aesthetic enhancements” (read: landscaping). But the most exciting part of the Flamingo project, at least for me, is not so much the actual construction as what it represents: another solid, forward step.

For as long as I can remember, our Valley’s roads have been an afterthought to its growth. We’re building tract houses on the far west side; guess we’d better widen the roads. Our sidewalks are terrifying propositions at best—thin strips of concrete bordered on one side by screaming vehicles and on the other by cinderblock walls. With the Flamingo project—and the Sahara project before it—the RTC is making a bona fide effort to make the streets usable for everyone, ultimately preparing us for the day when we commit to rail transit—and the day when the majority of us live in high-density rental housing. You know, as is the case in big cities.

But that’s down the proverbial road. For now, the RTC is only too happy to fix up our backlog of rough streets. The future will be sealed one pothole at a time.

“We have a lot of engineers and contractors who are working vigorously to respond to the demand for these road projects,” Swallow says. “Reflecting back on where we were five years ago, when one of our economy’s largest sectors—that being construction—took such a dramatic hit, it’s nice to see this kind of turnaround.”