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October 23, 2014

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Stop light coming to dangerous intersection

One fatality, eight accidents prompt county to speed up installation of traffic signal

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Brett McAfee

County officials plan to install a stop light at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Wigwam Avenue in response to concerns about safety. A pedestrian was killed at the intersection last summer.

Stopping Traffic

Police officers stop traffic while dozens of friends and family members of Verlaine Powless cross Las Vegas Boulevard South at the intersection of Wigwam Avenue on Saturday. The group is seeking action from county officials regarding conditions of the crosswalk.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for residents of the area near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Wigwam Avenue who have expressed concerns about the safety of the pedestrian crossing there.

Clark County Public Works spokesman Bobby Shelton said everything is on track for the early May activation of a traffic signal at the intersection while County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he is looking for ways to have the signal installed even sooner.

"If we can get it done even 30 days earlier, we might save a life," Sisolak said.

Sisolak said he aims to expedite the process of getting the project advertised to contractors and once a contractor is selected, expedite the commission's approval of the contract.

If he can get it done three to four weeks earlier than planned, he said he'll be happy.

"It's a number one priority," he said

For years, residents of the area have worried about their safety as, with vehicles flying by at the posted limit of 50 mph or faster, they tried to cross the five lanes of traffic separating residential developments on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard South from the stores and library on the east side.

Former state Sen. Joe Heck said he recalled being contacted by constituents worried about the crossing in 2005.

In response to concerns, he said he requested a traffic study from the Nevada Department of Transportation, the entity that had purview over that section of road prior to it being relinquished to Clark County sometime between 2006 and 2007.

Heck said when a traffic study concluded that the intersection did not warrant a light, he continued to work with NDOT officials to try and get a four-way stop installed, but then when the road became the county's, the entire process had to start over.

The installation of the signal was then included by the county in a roadway construction project to widen Las Vegas Boulevard South between Sunset Road and Silverado Ranch Boulevard that is scheduled to be completed in late 2009.

During the summer of 2008, while the intersection still remained unchanged, tensions among concerned residents who wanted action sooner came to a head.

On July 25, 19-year-old Verlaine May Powless was struck by a vehicle and killed as she traversed the crosswalk to get to the bus stop after her shift at Cash Plus.

Officer Barbara Morgan with Las Vegas Metro Police said during 2008 there were eight accidents at that intersection and one fatality.

The death of Powless sparked a petition for a signal that was signed by hundreds as well as a protest during Labor Day weekend in which about 50 residents disrupted traffic for miles by crossing Las Vegas Boulevard South repeatedly without pause. It was after the protest that county officials reported that the installation of the traffic signal would be removed from the Las Vegas Boulevard widening project and be completed at an earlier date.

Protest organizer and former coworker of Powless, Guy Smith, said he attributes the expedition of the signal to the residents' activism coupled with the threat of future protests.

Shelton said the public response to the death of Powless was not what prompted the county to expedite the signal.

"We routinely do that with various traffic signals," he said. "We try to get them built as quickly as possible."

In addition to the installation of the signal, Shelton said the speed limit on Las Vegas Boulevard will change sometime this year.

As part of the Las Vegas Boulevard South widening project, he said the speed limit will be reduced from 50 mph to 45 mph.

Also part of the project, a traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Serene Avenue, Shelton said.

Sisolak said there are probably other intersections along Las Vegas Boulevard that need attention, but for now his focus is on the intersection at Wigwam Avenue.

"Quite frankly, I don't want to give them any reason to delay this one," he said.

Ashley Livingston can be reached at 990-8925 or [email protected]

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