Nevada DOT and RTC Partner on $318M I-11 Project
Work is about halfway finished on a new 15-mile 4-lane new highway in Southern Nevada. The roadway connects from I-515 at Henderson to the U.S. 93 at the Hoover Dam Bypass, forming a bypass to the south of Boulder City. When completed, it will be the first segment of the new U.S. Interstate, I-11.
The project is structured as two phases. Phase 1, managed by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is constructing the portion of I-11 from Railroad Pass to U.S. 95, approximately 2.5 miles. Phase 2, managed by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) will complete I-11 from U.S. 95 to U.S. 93 near the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, approximately 12.5 miles. As it happens, both phases are running concurrently. Work began on both in the spring of 2015, with construction of Phase 1 scheduled to finish in 2017, and Phase 2 expected to be complete in October, 2018.
General contractor for Phase 1 is Fisher Sand and Gravel, which is based in North Dakota with offices in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. Las Vegas Paving, a Nevada company, is the general contractor for Phase 2.
Connecting Two States
Officials see a major benefit of the project in relief of local congestion. Projections are that the new roadway will result in time savings of over 30 minutes from the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge to Henderson by increasing speeds and eliminating backups at signal lights. Traffic counts on the project corridor are currently 34,000 vehicles per day, including heavy commercial trucking en route to and from Arizona.
The larger I-11 project is a response to growth in the Southwest. It has been noted that Las Vegas and Phoenix are the only two cities in the nation with populations of more than one million that are not linked by an interstate. When complete, I-11 will enhance travel and commerce between Arizona and Nevada. Advocates see this as eventually leading to a new transportation corridor for trade and commerce from Canada to Mexico.
The planned freeway between Las Vegas and Phoenix was designated as the Future I-11 by the U.S. Congress, with its passage of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) in 2012. The current project will be the official start of the I-11 freeway between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
I-11 will relieve congestion and improve safety for interstate travelers while alleviating bottlenecks and improving mobility for Boulder City residents as you commute, shop and visit family and friends. Also, I-11 creates thousands of jobs in our Southern Nevada community and a welcome boost to our economy.
The construction of the project will cost approximately $318 million and is funded from federal, state and local sources, including Fuel Revenue Indexing. Projected to be completed in 2018, the project will generate approximately 4,000 jobs in the region.
Work on both phases is made possible through a combination of $22 million in Fuel Revenue Indexing (FRI) funds, $291 million in federal funds and $5 million in state funding.
Phases 1 and 2 are running at the same time because an injection of funding through the FRI mechanism made it possible to accelerate the schedule. The change was welcome, but did create the need for some amendments to the plan of work.
"The original RFP had phase 1 providing earthwork into the Phase 2 work zone," explained Ryan Wheeler, P.E., Senior Project Manager for NDOT, "The Department adjusted that requirement after the RFP and awarded contracts had already been issued. Adjusting that requirement created a even balance work limits and reduced traveling impact for cross-hauling on U.S. 95."
Overcoming Environmental Challenges
The terrain, geology and the need to protect wildlife have all presented some challenges to the project.
The largest challenge to the project overall came with the discovery of naturally occurring asbestos in the right of way. Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA) refers to asbestos that is present naturally in soil and rock, as opposed to asbestos that was commercially mined and applied to building materials. NOA is found in many places in the United States and is present in at least 44 of California's 58 counties. The issue for construction is that disturbing NOA-bearing rock or soil can release mineral fibers into the air, which can injure the health of people who inhale them.
This was a first for NDOT, Wheeler said, and delayed the beginning of the project for almost a year as a complete survey was conducted, specifications for the projects were retooled, and contractors came up with mitigation plans.
Concentrations of NOA were found to be low in the Phase 2 area, and none was found in the Phase 1 area. NDOT and RTC decided to follow EPA recommended mitigation measures throughout the project. These include: wetting work areas and unpaved road surfaces repeatedly using water trucks, hoses, spray systems or sprinklers; cleaning equipment and vehicles to prevent tracking soil out of the work zone; reduced speeds for driving, drilling and excavation; excavating during periods of low winds. In addition, there is ongoing air monitoring along the entire project alignment.
To date the efforts have been successful, Wheeler said, personal monitors on workers have shown essentially no exposure.
Other challenges that have caused some delays and costs are from dealing with working around existing utilities, including a natural gas pipeline, while ensuring that existing customers remain in service as utilities are relocated into the new utility corridor, which lies in the frontage road of Phase 1.
Special efforts are being taken to preserve wildlife in what is largely a greenfield construction project. Overpasses and underpasses for animals including Bighorn Sheep are part of the design of the project. Fencing has been used throughout to keep animals out of the work zone. Additionally, the desert tortoises found along the right of way are being carefully relocated.
"They cleared it a mile at a time," said Wheeler. Specialists were hired to transition the amphibians to new areas.
The elevations of the Eldorado Mountains posed another challenge in the Phase 2 area, requiring blasting and specialized equipment to cut through the slopes and clear rock for the sub grade of the roadway.
For the Phase 1 work, Fisher Sand and Gravel is using heavy off road earth moving trucks, an on-site crushing plant to product manufactured aggregates for the project, and will have an on-site concrete batch plant for the concrete paving of the freeway. Motor graders, scrapers, water pulls or tankers, bulldozers, backhoes and various compaction equipment have been put to work on the project so far.
To deal with the demanding earthwork in the Eldorado Mountains, Las Vegas Paving is utilizing mining type equipment, including a Caterpillar 993 Loader, Caterpillar 777 Rock Trucks, D-10 and D-11 Dozers. Bridgework in the Eldorado Mountains calls for a 600-ton crane to erect the girders.
Massive amounts of earth have been moved - 1.2 million cubic yards in Phase 1, and 3.5 million cubic yards in Phase 2. Grading and drainage system work is substantially complete throughout the project, and the first of 11 bridges has been completed in the Phase 2 area. Wheeler said Phase 1 is currently four to five months ahead of schedule, with Phase 2 running on schedule.