Does Vegas Really Need to Spend More on the Spaghetti Bowl?

Photo by Ken Lund

Photo by Ken Lund

According to our transportation experts, yes. But let’s look beyond the bureaucrats to some all-too-rare common sense: When the Spaghetti Bowl opened to traffic in 1968, the Las Vegas population was about 120,000. What, 120,000, you say? Yup. We all had vast lawns! Hosed down our sidewalks! And (as I’m sure you’ve heard) could get anywhere in town in under 20 minutes!

Designed to accommodate 60,000 vehicles a day, the Spaghetti Bowl was built with plenty of room for growth, and it kept pace for about 20 years. But from the mid-1980s through the 1990s (and the massive population boom), new freeway connections to Summerlin as well as northern and southern expansions of U.S. 95 packed the Bowl with additional traffic, forcing a reworking of the Bowl with new ramps and flyovers. If the bureaucrats shoulder any blame, it is at this moment: Completed in 2000, this minor makeover was almost immediately overrun by the thousands of dreamers still moving here monthly. But that is the conundrum, isn’t it? If the government builds something without demonstrated need, people complain of waste. Build it after the need? People complain of lack of foresight.

Unquestionably, our infrastructure struggles against rapid growth, and road disruptions seem never-ending. Despite those curmudgeonly complaints, it is important to note plenty of successes have been taken for granted. Remember when U.S. 95 ended at Rainbow Boulevard in the north and Lake Mead Drive in the south? When Flamingo Road west of Interstate 15 didn’t exist because it didn’t have to? When the area around Centennial was sparse desert scrub and a few sprawling ranch homes?

Fast-forward to today. Las Vegas has 600,000 residents, and our metro area 2 million. The Spaghetti Bowl carries 300,000 vehicles daily. Rush hour really is an hour (or more) for many of you. And projections suggest another 700,000 living here by 2025. Can any of you (particularly recent suburban arrivals) imagine what life would be like without Interstate 215 linking an expanded U.S. 95, Interstate 15 and Interstate 515? Last week, the first portion of the Centennial Bowl opened, carrying almost 108,000 vehicles a day, many of them headed to the Spaghetti Bowl. Hence, the Spaghetti Bowl Part 3: Project Neon! Meanwhile, growth continues. Light rail, anyone?