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April 20, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: Transportation:

For now, tolls may be best hope for bypass

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Tiffany Brown

Construction continues this month on the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, seen here from the Arizona side of Black Canyon. It’s expected to open late next year.

Hoover Dam bypass bridge


If many in Boulder City have their way, traffic will be diverted from U.S. 93, above, around town. But a study has questioned the value of the project's first phase. Launch slideshow »

The idea of a four-lane bypass around Boulder City isn’t new: For years, legislators and transportation officials have debated building a

13-mile, $500 million highway that would prevent congestion in town once a new, truck-friendly bridge across the Colorado River opens.

That bridge, scheduled to open in late 2010, will handle commercial traffic that, until the 9/11 attacks, had crossed the Hoover Dam on U.S. 93. The highway cuts through Boulder City, a community of 15,000.

But legislators have again nixed the bypass. Boulder City’s next shot at persuading legislators to fund the bypass will be in 2011, said Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission.

In September, Boulder City Assemblyman Joe Hardy proposed enabling a private company to build and operate a toll road from Railroad Pass to Hoover Dam that would bypass the town. But lawmakers don’t want toll roads.

Snow said there may be more appetite for a toll road once the bridge opens. “Often, it’s crisis that’s the impetus for change,” Snow said, referring to expected congestion in Boulder City.

When he was in Congress, Republican Rep. Jon Porter secured about $34 million for the bypass. But in Carson City, presumably the source of the rest of the money, $6 billion in proposed transportation projects need funding.

The Nevada Transportation Department says the bypass project might get built in 2025.

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Snow supports the notion of toll roads as a means to raise money for transportation and transit projects. With the bypass, for instance, he foresees tolls as part of the solution.

So an RTC advisory committee in coming months will discuss issues involving toll roads and recommend how they should be operated. Snow hopes he can drum up grass-roots support for toll roads.

Snow favors publicly managed toll roads — and expects that any money raised locally through such initiatives be spent entirely on local projects.

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When Bullhead City, Ariz., resident Jim Chaney heard that President Barack Obama would be landing at McCarran International Airport at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, he headed there early to stake out a good viewing spot.

But as he approached Sunset Road, Air Force One whisked by on its final descent — at 4:10 p.m.

Chaney thought he’d still be able to shoot video of the parked Boeing 747-200B by parking at a Sunset Road pullout alongside the airport’s chain-link fence, a popular place to watch airplanes land and take off. The lot was closed for security reasons, so Chaney joined a few dozen observers dotting the curb across the street.

Some spectators groused. “You see the plane, you see the ramp, but you can’t see Obama,” said David Snow of Las Vegas.

For the first 30 minutes after Air Force One touched down, traffic along Sunset was no worse than in any weekday rush hour — some motorists slowed to get glimpses of Air Force One, but no one stopped.

(Four private aircraft violated restricted airspace during Obama’s landing. The pilots could face license suspensions, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.)

When authorities reopened the airplane-viewing parking lot about 4:50, it filled with would-be spectators who didn’t realize the president had arrived, and traffic along Sunset worsened.

Late arrivals were nonetheless mesmerized by the sight of the world’s most famous 747, sans Obama, taking off at 4:58 p.m., lesser aircraft waiting in line behind it.

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