Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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Stimulus bill paves way for road projects

The state Transportation Department is moving forward with seven area freeway projects — four of which would have remained on the back burner without federal stimulus money. All should be under way this summer.

Even without the stimulus, transportation officials anticipated there would be enough money for a widening of Interstate 15 between Blue Diamond Road and Tropicana Avenue, and a restriping and resurfacing of Cheyenne Avenue from U.S. 95 to Nellis Boulevard, spokesman Scott Magruder said.

But the stimulus money will pay for the resurfacing of a 17-mile stretch of I-15 beginning at the California border, a swath of I-15 near Mesquite, and U.S. 95 from Kyle Canyon Road to Lee Canyon Road. Those projects will cost $54 million. The federal money also will pay for the landscaping of U.S. 95 from Martin Luther King Boulevard to the Rainbow Boulevard curve, a $9 million project.

The widening of I-15 between Blue Diamond and Tropicana includes adding a lane in each direction between Blue Diamond and Interstate 215 — aligning with the eight lanes between the Las Vegas Beltway and Tropicana — and paving up to two more lanes both ways along this entire stretch to ease merging at ramps.

The Cheyenne project, which includes a median island between I-15 and Rancho Drive, will cost $14 million.

The seventh freeway project involves the installation of digital signs on U.S. 95 from the beltway north to Charleston Boulevard that would advise motorists of drive times to interchanges, which will cost $12 million.

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The idea seemed foreign to many Westerners: Share a ride to work with someone I don’t know? But the idea suddenly had merit when the price of gas last summer reached unprecedented heights.

A 20-mile round-trip commute alone cost some Las Vegas Valley residents $30 weekly.

So the number of participants in a government-sponsored alternative commuting program called Club Ride soared. No surprise there. But the number continues to climb, even after gas prices collapsed to more modest levels — and have held steady.

In the first quarter of 2008, about 1,800 residents reported that they — at least occasionally — used alternative commuting options, says Tracy Bower, spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Those options include carpooling, walking, bicycling and mass transit. The number jumped to 2,871 the first quarter of this year.

If that increase holds over the last three quarters of 2009, Club Ride will nearly double its total 2008 participation number of about 6,400.

Gas prices may have been the impetus for carpooling last summer, but other factors, including a deepening recession, can’t be overlooked.

RTC, the sponsor of Club Ride, relaunched the free program in August and has marketed it extensively.

Another explanation: More companies are promoting Club Ride — almost 200 valleywide. In the past three months 18 employers signed on, including five casinos. Club Ride’s appeal to employers: offering employees a way to save money at a time when companies are reducing benefits.

And RTC is peddling a new perk for Club Ride members: discounts at local businesses, including 10 percent off at local Enterprise Rent-A-Car locations and 20 percent off at Jamba Juice.

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Area freeways aren’t the only mode of transportation benefiting from stimulus dollars.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced this week that Boulder City Airport will get $1.25 million to resurface the main runway. Transportation officials believe the resurfacing will extend the life of the runway 15 years.

“This grant from the recovery plan will not only provide an improvement to the Boulder City Airport, but it will put people to work in Southern Nevada by injecting money into our local economy,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, says.

Boulder City Airport served about 200,000 passengers in 2008, according to Titus’ office.

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