After a ceremonial start last month, the almost $1 billion Spaghetti Bowl overhaul dubbed Project Neon has started in earnest. The Nevada Department of Transportation has a slew of things on tap that it hopes will help make things easier for drivers during construction on the busiest piece of highway in Nevada.
Anyone who works or lives Downtown has already experienced the first stages of Project Neon, which has closed the on-ramp to northbound U.S. 95 and caused lane closures on the Casino Center exit from southbound U.S. 95. This has pushed drivers seeking to access Interstate 15 south to the Martin Luther King Boulevard exit off Charleston Boulevard, causing westbound traffic congestion stretching as far back as Las Vegas Boulevard during peak afternoon rush hour.
And this is only the beginning of a project slated to last until the summer of 2019. The key components of the project are an 81-foot-tall high-occupancy vehicle flyover bridge from southbound U.S. 95 to southbound I-15 and a widening of a 3.7-mile stretch of I-15 between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl. Other changes include converting the existing I-15 express lanes into general purpose HOV lanes and the creation of a full diamond interchange at Charleston Boulevard. Other improvements Downtown include making Martin Luther King Boulevard into a feeder road for I-15 and upgrades to Grand Central Parkway over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and creating parkway access to Industrial Road.
For the tech-savvy, NDOT is releasing a new smartphone app that will provide real-time traffic alerts, construction updates and a 3-D simulation of the project.
“We’re going to try to ease the pain as much as possible,” says Tony Illia, NDOT’s public information officer. “Nobody likes traffic.”
Illia says that NDOT, which has been planning this project for 20 years, has been proactive in putting pressure on the contractor to minimize road and exit closures. Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., the contractor for Project Neon as well as the original contractor that built the Spaghetti Bowl in the 1960s, will get fined $13,300 every 10 minutes for an unscheduled or unnecessary closure. In addition, there are provisions that there will be minimal road closures during events such as NASCAR.
“Getting charged thousands of dollars every 10 minutes will add up fast, and they don’t want that,” Illia says.
The state has also built in incentives to encourage Kiewit to get the job done fast. There is a $20 million incentive for the company to finish the project early. Illia says the contractor was picked because it promised to finish 750 days earlier than projected, which if delivered could save an estimated $80 million. The project will create more than 4,000 jobs.
Still, this is little comfort when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper cone zones. NDOT has a plan for that, too. As part of the project, NDOT is installing a dozen billboards—the largest 12 ½ feet tall by 77 feet wide—over the freeways feeding in and out of the Spaghetti Bowl that will transmit real-time lane-by-lane traffic conditions about closures and accidents, Illia says. By the end of Project Neon, a total of 50 such signs will be installed throughout the Spaghetti Bowl system.
For the tech-savvy, NDOT is releasing a new smartphone app that will provide real-time traffic alerts, construction updates and a 3-D simulation of the project. Plans are to sync the app with the popular navigation app Waze. The free app is scheduled for release in the fall, when construction on Project Neon is slated to kick into high gear.
There are other ways commuters can get updates: a public information office Downtown (320 Wall Street) that’s open six days a week, a Project Neon website (NDoTProjectNeon.com) where you can sign up for email and text alerts and traffic updates, and a toll-free hotline that’s in the works.
Project Neon By the Numbers
1 million cubic yards
of total earth moved during Project Neon—enough to fill 324 Olympic-size swimming pools
42,062 cubic yards
of bridge concrete—enough to build a sidewalk from Las Vegas to St. George, Utah
247,812 square yards
of concrete paving—enough to build a bike path from Boulder City to Kingman, Arizona
15 million pounds
of reinforcing steel—enough to build 256 Sherman tanks
the total length of Project Neon—the equivalent of 17 Stratosphere Towers laid end-to-end