U.S. 95 through Las Vegas will carry more than 300,000 vehicles a day after expansion.

Seven years and a lawsuit later, transportation officials celebrated on Dec. 17 the completion of a $520-million, 9-mile U.S. Highway 95 widening in northwest Las Vegas.

The project, originally budgeted at $370 million, suffered a one-year setback and 28.8% price increase when the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in 2002. The environmental group cited a study linking exhaust emissions with increased cancer cases. The suit came two years after construction had started and resulted in an injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on July 28, 2004.

The Nevada Dept. of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration settled out of court in June 2005, which added $4 million to the project for air filters and monitoring equipment as well as retrofits for cleaner running school buses. Raw material and labor prices increased during the hiatus, and a 39-year-old elementary school along the route required relocation at cost of $14 million.

U.S. 95 entailed 10 major construction contracts, including a $94.8-million segment that ranks as Nevada's single largest road job to date. Las Vegas Paving Corp. completed the two-mile widening and realignment between Valley View and Rainbow Boulevards in late November. The local firm also finished a $9.6-million portion between Cheyenne Avenue and Craig Road in June 2002.


The 9-mile-long project adds up to four extra lanes and created a high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction. There are seven new over- and underpasses plus 13 miles of soundwalls, storm drainage and redesigned connector ramps. The improved 10-lane roadway is designed to accommodate 302,600 vehicles a day, or about 34% more than its previous traffic flow.

U.S. 95 is one of Nevada's most congested stretches of highway, with nearly 12,000 vehicles traveling less than half the speed allowed during peak commuting hours, says U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters. Even a slight vehicle speed increase would save more than $8.5 million per year in delay expenses, she adds.

Yet the project, which transportation officials began planning in 1995, could fall short of 2020 traffic growth projections expected to reach 450,000 vehicles a day. A U.S. 95 widening between Washington Avenue and Craig Road is designed but unfunded. NDOT faces a $3.8-billion funding shortfall from 2008 through 2015 due to diminished gas and sales tax receipts. A gubernatorial panel is now exploring alternative funding options, says Gov. Jim Gibbons (R), also state transportation board chairman. "Hopefully, we're going to avoid the 12 years it took to get this built." he says.