Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Residents and business owners near Sahara Avenue are preparing for construction to begin on the road as the Regional Transportation Commission starts building a new express bus route.
The Sahara Express bus rapid transit line will travel most of the way across the valley using dedicated bus lanes on the right side of Sahara Avenue.
Construction on the project is set to begin within two months and must be done by February 2012 because of rules on the $34.4 million of federal stimulus money that is being used for the $40 million project.
Construction will be occurring across much of the road for nearly a year. But most of the construction is relatively simple and does not require utility relocation or major excavation, said David Swallow, the RTC’s director of engineering.
To prepare for the new route, crews will be milling the top layer of Sahara, laying new asphalt and restriping the road. They will also be installing shelters at some of the bus stops and putting in landscaping in parts of the median and along some sidewalks.
The RTC held a public meeting to answer residents’ questions Wednesday at the Sahara West Library on the west side of the valley. A similar meeting is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the offices of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, 1750 E. Sahara Ave., near Eastern Avenue.
Many of the people at Wednesday’s meeting were concerned about the possibility of losing access to their businesses or to the residential roads off Sahara during construction.
Swallow said the contractor will be keeping access open during the entire project. “We understand it’s critical to maintain access, especially in the current economic climate,” he said.
The bus line will use dedicated lanes for most of its route, from Hualapai Way to Dean Martin Drive near Interstate 15, then again from Paradise Road to Boulder Highway.
The route will also run to Red Rock Resort in the west and to some of the neighborhoods east of Boulder Highway. It will use regular traffic lanes for those portions of the route along with the stretch near the Strip between Dean Martin Drive and Paradise Road, where there is not enough right-of-way to add a bus lane.
Where the bus lanes are installed, motorists will not lose any existing travel lanes because the bus lanes will be built in what is now the breakdown lane or right shoulder of the road, similar to the existing bus lanes on Las Vegas Boulevard North for the MAX bus line and the ones being built on Boulder Highway for a new express route.
The new bus lane will also serve as a turning lane for regular traffic near intersections.
Despite the addition of a lane to the road, the entire project is within the city, county or state’s right-of-way, so no property will be taken from private owners, and the roads’ size will not change much, Swallow said.
Most of the road getting bus lanes will also receive other improvements, including landscaping from Decatur Boulevard to Dean Martin Drive and from Paradise Road to Boulder Highway. Some sidewalks in the area will also be improved, project officials said.
Many of the bus line’s stops will be at stations, similar to the ones that were recently installed on the Strip, but smaller. They include ticket vending machines, covered seating and an elevated platform to allow passengers to board the buses without a large step up.
The platforms are just a couple inches higher than a normal curb, a feature that greatly relieved Tony and Sandy Lucchesi, who came to the meeting after hearing the term “elevated platform” and envisioning the high platforms above buildings and roads used by some of the trains in their native Chicago.
The retired couple lives just a block off Sahara near Hualapai Way and worried that a platform overshadowing their home would lower its value, so they were happy to hear the platforms would closer to the ground.
While they said they probably wouldn’t ride the new buses — “If you’re retired and you want to get someplace, you just get in your car and go,” Sandy Lucchesi said — they thought the express line is a good idea.
“They should have started this 20 years ago when we moved here,” Tony Lucchesi said.