ACTT Workshop: Nevada
Project NEON: Connecting Commuters
Chapter 2: Project Details
2.1 Corridor Description
The Las Vegas Valley is served by two key freeway facilities - I-15, which runs north and south and connects Las Vegas to California on the southwest and to Salt Lake City on the northeast; and US 95, which runs east and west within the urban center. To complicate matters further, US 95 crosses I-15 at the north end of the project corridor, with the two thoroughfares intersecting just west of downtown Las Vegas. (See Figure 1. Project Location Map.)
The goal of PROJECT NEON is to examine a section of I-15 beginning at the US 95/I-15 interchange (the "Spaghetti Bowl") and extending approximately 2.5 miles south. This section of the I-15 corridor serves the Las Vegas Valley as a primary transportation link through central Las Vegas, serving over 250,000 vehicles per day.
Figure 1: Project Location Map
This section of the I-15 corridor is a limited-access urban freeway consisting of a minimum of three through lanes in each direction. In addition, there are various auxiliary lanes that provide access to two service interchanges - Sahara Avenue and Charleston Boulevard - and connect to the I-15/US 95 system interchange. These service interchanges provide access to downtown Las Vegas to the east and to a variety of commercial, retail and residential areas to the west. The system interchange provides access to the east via Interstate 515 (I-515) and to the west via US 95.
This heavily traveled section of I-15 contains a mix of motorists making interstate and local trips, leading to a high number of lane changes and a high incidence of weaving between entrance and exit ramps. The results are a high level of congestion and a high possibility for accidents. The existing levels of service (LOS) through the area range from D to E. Compounding the situation is the distance between the Charleston Boulevard interchange and the I-15/US 95 system interchange, which is less than one mile - a much shorter distance than the recommended two miles between a system and service interchange. Not surprisingly, this provides insufficient time for motorists to navigate between the two interchanges and degrades overall freeway operations.
And there are local-access issues facing PROJECT NEON as well. Paramount among these is the need to improve local street access from northwest Las Vegas to the resort corridor, commonly called the Strip. The resort corridor, which parallels I-15, is the primary employment center for Las Vegas. As a result, many Strip employees utilize I-15 to get to work, which further degrades freeway operations. Martin Luther King Boulevard (MLK) from the north and Industrial Road from the south are major arterials that motorists could use to access the Strip; however, these streets are separated by I-15 and terminate between Charleston Boulevard and Wyoming Avenue. Options for providing a connection between these two streets were part of previous planning studies and were identified in the rod for the US 95 Final Environmental Impact Statement/Section 4(f) Evaluation (January 2000), which approved an alternative for an MLK to Industrial Road connector. This will provide another direct link from northwest Las Vegas to the Strip and should help reduce the number of local trips taking place on I-15.
2.2 PROJECT NEON Goals and Objectives
PROJECT NEON evolved because NDOT's project development leaders recognized the importance of this section of I-15 for local and interstate travelers.
The initial objective of the project team was to ascertain what components should be considered as part of the planning and study process. They identified six factors as being key to 1) addressing freeway and interchange operational deficiency, 2) creating new access to downtown Las Vegas, and 3) providing new local street connections to the resort corridor:
- Reduce freeway congestion by improving the operations between Sahara Avenue and the I-15/US 95 interchange.
- Provide new access to downtown Las Vegas.
- Improve I-15/Charleston Boulevard interchange operations.
- Improve I-15/Sahara Avenue interchange operations.
- Provide a new local street connection to the resort corridor by linking MLK and Industrial Road.
- Improve local street operations and safety by removing the existing at-grade railroad crossing at Oakey Boulevard and Wyoming Avenue.
The first step in developing PROJECT NEON was to establish the purpose and need for the project. This purpose and need statement would be the cornerstone for the development and evaluation of potential alternatives for the project corridor. (See Purpose and Need.) It is being updated as part of the EIS process.
In addition to addressing key roadway components, the project team focused on developing potential alternatives that would control local traffic movements and meet the needs of the local community, including pedestrians and bicyclists. The team also felt it was important to develop alternatives that would reduce the overall impacts to adjacent properties.
With these goals in place, the project team garnered input from the community throughout the planning process, soliciting feedback that would be used as part of project development. The team drew heavily upon the context sensitive solutions (CSS) approach, using a dedicated project office, additional public information meetings, various stakeholder meetings and media releases to solicit community input. The objective of the project team was, and is, to be proactive in seeking feedback from the community.
2.3 Project Background
The need for PROJECT NEON was identified in the planning studies and environmental documents listed below:
- I-15 Freeway Operations Study (June 2002), which identified traffic issues and improvement options within the freeway corridor.
- ROD for the US 95 Final EIS/Section 4(f) Evaluation (January 2000), which approved the MLK to Industrial Road connector.
- I-15/US 95 Interchange Environmental Assessment (March 1994), which identified improvements to the Charleston Boulevard interchange and the addition of a half-diamond interchange at Alta Drive. These improvements are also noted in the I-15/US 95 Interchange Concept Design Report (May 1995).
Each of these studies recommended improvements to various stretches of I-15. Recognizing the importance of planning these enhancements in conjunction with potential changes to the rest of the I-15 corridor, NDOT's project development leaders became even more committed to providing feasible alternatives that would not prohibit future expansion of I-15.
As a result, PROJECT NEON was started in mid-2003 with the goal of addressing the regional and local highway needs for the I-15 corridor through a year 2030 planning horizon. In the last year, NDOT, FHWA, the city of Las Vegas and Parsons have worked together to identify and critique possible improvement concepts for the project. This effort culminated in December 2003, when key stakeholders established a consensus reflecting feedback from Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings and an intensive public outreach program.
Since December 2003, contact has been made with approximately 350 people by conducting two CSS meetings and two public information meetings. In addition, approximately 400 people have visited, phoned or e-mailed the project office to inquire about the project and to provide feedback. The project team plans on continuing this proactive public involvement process throughout the life of the project.
2.3.1 Project Challenges
Figure 2: 2002 Daily Traffic Volumes
Providing transportation solutions that will accommodate the anticipated 60 percent increase in the Las Vegas Valley population from 2003 to 2030 is a major challenge facing NDOT, RTC and other local transportation agencies. The figures below provide a comparison of Las Vegas' transportation network in 2002 and 2030 in light of the projected growth.
Another major challenge facing PROJECT NEON is the escalating real estate prices in Las Vegas. Since the project began in 2003, property values within parts of the corridor have doubled, and they continue to rise at alarming rates. The project team's initial anticipated ROW costs were approximately $100 million; however, escalating real estate prices may substantially increase these costs.
The vicinity of PROJECT NEON to the city of Las Vegas' downtown redevelopment area provides a setting for potential zoning changes that would benefit the city's redevelopment initiative. Light industrial and commercial areas along the corridor could very well be converted into a mix of high-density residential (condominium high-rise towers) and commercial/retail sites.
Figure 3: 2030 Daily Traffic Volumes
This expanding redevelopment is actually changing the characteristics of the community as the project unfolds and makes developing viable alternative even more challenging.
Another key challenge for PROJECT NEON is minimizing and mitigating various environmental justice issues associated with the project. The proposed alternatives would relocate a large number of residential and business sites and impact over 800 individuals. Therefore, careful relocation planning is essential to the success of the project. This process is further complicated by the recent increase in real estate prices and the direct impact this has on available affordable housing in the Las Vegas Valley.
Finally, PROJECT NEON costs are expected to exceed $550 million. This constitutes a major portion of the State of Nevada's transportation program and challenges NDOT to find a funding mechanism that allows for the construction of this project while balancing the State's other transportation needs. The challenge for the project team is to evaluate various project phasing plans and propose one that would allow NDOT to construct portions of the project and extend the funding timeframe.
2.3.2 Agency Involvement and Coordination
A TAC consisting of NDOT, FHWA, city of Las Vegas, RTC and other key agency personnel was established to provide guidance and direction to the project team throughout the project development process. This committee is responsible for evaluating potential alternatives and recommending the preferred alternative to be presented in the environmental document. This committee meets monthly for a progress update, at which time members are briefed on ongoing alternative development and asked to provide input on this and other project issues.
2.3.3 Project Development Process
In the fall of 2003, the project team held their first public meeting to present the overall project objectives and to invite feedback from the community. The project team then held a workshop with the TAC and other key stakeholders to brainstorm potential solutions. During this workshop, attendees developed a draft purpose and need statement for PROJECT NEON.
Following the initial workshop, the project team developed a wide range of potential alternatives. These options underwent a fatal flaw analysis where factors such as design standards, overall impacts and the ability to meet the project's purpose and need were considered.
After evaluating over 27 combinations of potential alternatives, the design team presented their findings at a second two-day workshop held in December 2003. The objective was to familiarize the TAC and other key stakeholders with potential solutions, receive feedback and narrow the number of potential alternatives to carry forward. The workshop attendees reached consensus on which potential alternatives should be studied further, recognizing that a variety of local street improvements would work in combination with the potential freeway improvements. Therefore, the alternatives were defined as Freeway, MLK and Oakey/Wyoming. They are described in the following section.
The final phase of the alternative process focused on developing the alternatives identified in the second workshop. This phase included an analysis of roadway geometrics, conceptual structure, drainage, utilities, ROW and cost to construct the alternatives. This information was provided to the TAC and other key stakeholders in a draft alternatives design report. The TAC then evaluated the alternatives at a workshop held in July 2004. Each alternative was put through a screening process and evaluated as part of a matrix to identify the option that would be recommended by the TAC as the preferred alternative.
2.3.4 Potential Project Improvements
Based on PROJECT NEON's development process, the following potential alternatives are being studied further:
I-15 Freeway Corridor:
Potential improvements to the I-15 corridor focus on reducing existing and future congestion. Based on the alternative concepts currently being studied, a combination of a freeway and collector-distributor (C-D) road system appears to reduce congestion, provide acceptable LOS, enhance safety, and provide necessary access to and from I-15.
New Downtown Las Vegas Access:
The proposed freeway alternatives would provide new access from the south to the city's downtown redevelopment area. A half-diamond interchange design concept located at Alta Drive and I-15 was determined to be the most feasible option for providing this new access.
Charleston Boulevard Interchange:
Traffic operational analysis indicates that a single point diamond interchange (SPDI) would provide the most efficient operation at this critical intersection. The proposed freeway alternatives would reconstruct the existing interchange with an SPDI, and Charleston Boulevard would be improved to accommodate this new configuration.
Sahara Avenue Interchange:
Due to the required freeway expansion, a major portion of the Sahara Avenue interchange would likely require reconstruction. The project team is studying concepts that would improve the overall operation of this intersection and its freeway connections.
MLK and Industrial Road Connection:
A wide variety of concepts were considered in the development of the new MLK and Industrial Road connection. Through the development process, the project team determined that a six-lane viaduct crossing over I-15 is the most viable option. Following a review of possible sites for the viaduct crossing, the group determined that I-15 south of Charleston Boulevard should be studied further.
Oakey Boulevard and Wyoming Avenue:
During PROJECT NEON's development, team leaders recognized that removing the existing at-grade railroad crossing at Oakey Boulevard and Wyoming Avenue would improve local street traffic operations and safety. Further, they determined that raising the roadway to cross over the Union Pacific track would be the most appropriate solution. Due to the proximity of the MLK and Industrial Road connector, Wyoming Avenue would also be grade separated over Industrial Road.
2.3.5 Environmental Documentation
PROJECT NEON is in the early stages of preparing an EIS to document social, economic, environmental justice and other environmental effects. Because the project corridor is heavily developed, NDOT anticipates little impact to the natural environment. The major concern appears to be addressing environmental justice issues surrounding the project area. The project team is conducting housing and business surveys to help define these impacts, and this will continue as a major part of the EIS.
2.3.6 Value Engineering
Due to the complexity of PROJECT NEON, a week-long value engineering (VE) workshop was held to review the potential alternatives. VE is a program designed to improve project quality, reduce project costs, foster innovation, eliminate unnecessary and costly design elements, and ensure efficient investments. Held in August 2004, the workshop featured representatives from NDOT, the city of Las Vegas, Parsons and the project design team. The group's objective was to evaluate potential roadway geometrics, bridge structures, traffic and construction impacts.
2.4 Project Status
PROJECT NEON's original development timeline was based on completing an environmental assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI); however, after further study of the project area and alternatives, NDOT's project development leaders recognized the significant environmental justice issues involved. As a result, they recommended proceeding with an EIS. This process kicked off with a scoping meeting held February 23, 2005.
The I-15 corridor serves the Las Vegas Valley as a primary transportation link through central Las Vegas. Significant growth of population in the Las Vegas Valley, approximately 60 percent from 2003 to 2030, will increase traffic volumes and local commuter traffic passing through this corridor. This growth will place significant demand on the I-15 corridor and connections to US 95. The purpose of this project is to meet the short- and long-term transportation needs of the project area, provide improved transportation in response to regional growth, decrease congestion, and enhance mobility. Both existing congestion and projected increases in traffic necessitate the proposed improvements. Improved traffic operations and reduced congestion will improve air quality. Geometric and traffic operation improvements are expected to enhance safety to the traveling public.
I-15 is rapidly approaching maximum capacity for its current configuration. There are operational deficiencies within the existing layout that create friction between traffic, therefore decreasing overall capacity. The combination of increased traffic volumes and friction is expected to create increased congestion, thereby increasing the frequency of accidents and creating a safety concern.The city of Las Vegas is currently promoting redevelopment of the downtown area adjacent to the corridor, which will attract more traffic into the study area. Due to existing access limitations from I-15 into the redevelopment center, it will be critical to improve access to prevent interchange levels of service failures in future years. In addition, providing a new connection from MLK to Industrial Road would link downtown Las Vegas to the resort corridor and North Las Vegas Valley. The new connection would provide an alternate route for commuter traffic, which in turn would assist in removing commuter traffic from an interstate route. Improving access and alternative routes will provide more efficient freeway operations and increase the viability of downtown Las Vegas and associated economics.