Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010 | 5:20 p.m.
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The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and the Nevada Department of Transportation threw their support behind Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler on Wednesday as the city grapples with an influx of traffic since the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened in November.
Officials from the RTC and NDOT said they would support rerouting commercial truck traffic onto U.S. 95 -- the path it took while the bridge was under construction for eight years -- and pledged assistance in securing funding for the Boulder City Bypass, rebranded as part of the proposed Interstate 11 project connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas.
The announcement comes a month after the bridge’s opening, as thousands of additional vehicles have been pouring though town on U.S. 93. Four months ago the city council passed a symbolic ordinance forbidding trucks on the highway to send a message to state and federal officials.
The problem with constructing the bypass, said Jacob Snow, general manager of the RTC, has always been funding. Rudy Malfabon, deputy director for NDOT in Southern Nevada, estimated it would cost $360 million to build.
With the state facing one of the worst budget crises in decades, the money isn’t there. Both Snow and Malfabon said they didn’t know when funding might be available.
“We have to have the resources first,” Snow said.
In the meantime, there are other steps to take, Snow said. The RTC believes there is a state of emergency in Boulder City, he said, and transportation officials will soon ask the Federal Highway Administration to redirect commercial trucks onto U.S. 95 through Searchlight and Laughlin.
Another short-term fix could be to install digital signs in Arizona, which would warn drivers about congestion in Boulder City and suggest U.S. 95 as an alternative.
But Snow and Tobler said eliminating truck traffic and adding signs wouldn’t solve the issue, as the bridge itself is attracting other visitors and adding to traffic counts.
Tobler said he hopes that with the support of the RTC and NDOT, they can convince the Nevada Legislature and Congress that the traffic influx is “not just a local problem.” Snow estimated about 34,000 vehicles pass through Boulder City each day.
U.S. 93, which has four lanes coming into the city, narrows to two lanes through the city. Tobler said he’s seen cars backed up by 11 a.m. or noon.
Some businesses along U.S. 93 have reported a drop in sales, Tobler said, as local customers are avoiding the traffic jam. Jill Lagan, CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, said she had concerns about the effect on the local economy.
“People may not come back,” she said. “We need repeat customers. We want that repeat customer to be satisfied.”
Fire Chief Keith Nicholson said the department’s response times have grown and police officer John Glenn said he has seen a jump in traffic accidents since the bridge opened.
Tobler noted that U.S. 95 and portions of U.S. 93 outside of Boulder City have seen improvements since construction on the bridge began in 2003, making Boulder City’s segment of U.S. 93 the only area affected by increased traffic that went unimproved.
“The current situation is unacceptable,” said Tobler, who added that he owns Home Hardware and Variety near U.S. 93 and Canyon Road. In August, at his suggestion, the city council passed an ordinance removing U.S. 93 from the Canada-Mexico trucking route, a symbolic gesture toward state and federal authorities to raise awareness.
The clog on U.S. 93 in Boulder City, Snow said, could also have negative long-term effects for the rest of Las Vegas Valley, as it would discourage traffic coming through Arizona. The bus route from Las Vegas to Boulder City is “the most unreliable in our system,” he added.
With the combined punch of economic impact and public safety concerns, Snow said Tobler and the city’s efforts might find new ears in Carson City and Washington. If the Boulder City Bypass is rolled into the I-11 project, he said it could have access to federal funding.
Tobler, who said he ran for city council eight years ago in part because of the bypass issue, also suggested lobbying the Legislature to consider tolling, which is currently illegal in Nevada, to pay for the bypass.