Nevada's recent population boom means congested roads across the state. Traffic nearly tripled during the last 15 years, making management of the highway system a daunting task. The Nevada Dept. of Transportation is up for the challenge, pursuing a batch of new construction projects, plans and practices that shift the 95-year-old agency into overdrive.

NDOT manages 5,401 miles of highways and 1,092 bridges across the 110,562-sq-mile state. Although only 20% of Nevada roads are state-maintained, those roads account for 57% of total miles traveled in the state and 87% of all heavy truck traffic.

NDOT is led by Susan Martinovich, who will be retiring this summer after 28 years with the 1,814-employee, $1-billion-a-year agency. She was the first woman to serve as president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2011. As president, she pushed for greater funding flexibility and project innovation and led a multi-state, cross-jurisdictional effort known as the I-15 Mobility Alliance to develop an 840-mile-long I-15 corridor multimodal master plan.

"Susan is one of the best, most qualified NDOT directors in the past 25 years," says Tom Skancke, president of The Skancke Group, a Las Vegas-based transportation consultant. "She has been with them for nearly 30 years, doing everything from engineering and design to planning and finance. She gets all sides of it."

Design-Build Revolution

Martinovich, the state's first female director of NDOT, nudged the agency toward being more inventive and efficient. NDOT, for example, used design-build on a $251.8-million, 5.8-mile widening of Interstate 15 North in Las Vegas—a first for the state—that resulted in a 7.5-month early completion in January 2010 with no accidents or claims. The contractor was North Corridor Constructors LLC—a joint-venture between Las Vegas Paving, Las Vegas, and Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M-Hill.

The project's success prompted the use of design-build for a $246.5-million, 7-mile widening of I-15 South between Silverado Ranch Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue, scheduled to finish in mid-2012. Las Vegas Paving is the general contractor. A portion of the project uses more than 1 million lb of recycled tires to create a smoother, less noisy driving surface.

Three future phases of I-15 South widening are planned. The 4.8-mile Phase 2, estimated to cost up to $54 million, is expected to bid in 2013. Construction will start in 2015 on the approximately $85-million, 4.6-mile Phase 3 and Phase 4's new interchange ramps between I-15 and 215.

Design-build delivery is also helping reconstruct an aging but crucial interchange in Mesquite, 80 miles north of Las Vegas. In another first for the state, the $14-million I-15/Exit 120 project is utilizing accelerated bridge construction (ABC) to swap out 1,000-ton, 45-ft-wide sections of freeway with newer, wider replacements. W.W. Clyde & Co., Springdale, Utah, is the contractor. The ABC method calls for building new bridges on temporary foundations alongside the existing structures. Old bridges are then demolished and new versions are slid into place, using hydraulic jacks and steel rails with liquid dish soap as lubricant.

"ABC will reduce construction time by six months, while saving an estimated $12.7 million in delays and fuel costs," says Martinovich, who started at NDOT in 1984 and took the helm in 2007. "It enables better work zone safety and construction efficiency."

The largest state highway project to break ground last year, the $72-million I-80 roadway improvements from Robb Drive to Vista Boulevard in Reno/Sparks, Nev., was also NDOT's first design-build project in northern Nevada. Sparks-based Granite Construction is expected to complete the nearly 10-mile fast-track project by the end of this year.