The Nevada Department of Transportation got the go-ahead Tuesday to widen a stretch of Interstate 15 parallel to the Las Vegas Strip and create express lanes.
The state Transportation Board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons, approved $35 million for the project to use existing road shoulders to widen the freeway from four to five lanes northbound and southbound, with two lanes dedicated for use as through lanes.
"There is room there for another lane, and we don't have to acquire right of way," state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said. "That is a big savings."
A contract for the work, which officials said could end up costing as little as $25 million, will be awarded soon. The project is slated for completion in the summer of 2009.
Jim Souba, assistant Transportation Department engineering director, said motorists traveling in the express lanes will be required to drive the entire 5.5-mile length between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road before exiting. Exceptions will be made for emergency vehicles.
Currently, vehicles changing lanes to exit at Spring Mountain Road, Tropicana Avenue and Flamingo Road cause all lanes of traffic to slow, Souba said.
Studies have found that a large percentage of the 250,000 vehicles using I-15 each day travel the entire Russell-to-Sahara stretch.
The express lanes will be marked by foot-high, flexible plastic poles that engineers call "candlesticks."
The express lane project will be the first highway project completed with funds appropriated by the 2007 Legislature. Money for the express lanes comes from $20 million a year in room taxes
that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority contributes to state highway improvements.
Legislators found enough money to cover a $1 billion highway construction program by taking existing room taxes, car rental fees and county property tax revenue.