Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

US 95 Improvement Project

Nevada Department of Transportation
Clark County, Nevada

Introduction

Growth in Clark County, Nevada
1990-2000*
  • Population: 85.6%
  • Housing Units: 76.5%
  • Private Non-Farm Employment: ↑78.7%
*With the exception of private non-farm employment, which is from 1990-1999.
Source: 2000 US Census.

The Las Vegas metropolitan area in Clark County, Nevada has experienced substantial population growth since 1970, growing from less than 280,000 people to over 1.1 million in 1996 (a 300 percent increase). Clark County as a whole has been one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. This growth has led to significant increases in demand on roadways and, in many cases, congestion due to insufficient capacity to accommodate the high demand. This has been especially true for the portion of US 95 located in the Northwest Region of the Las Vegas Valley, which consists of portions of the City of Las Vegas, the City of North Las Vegas, and unincorporated Clark County. In the 1990s, the Northwest Region was the fastest growing sub-region in the metropolitan area.

US 95 is the primary north-south travel corridor in the Northwest Region. By 1995, the corridor was operating near capacity during peak periods and experiencing heavy congestion during certain times of the day due to the tremendous growth and accompanying increased demand for highway travel. Based on travel demand modeling and an anticipated continuation of past growth trends, these conditions were projected to worsen significantly by the year 2020, with sections of US 95 expected to be operating at 50 to 75 percent above capacity.

Quadrat Map of Northwest Region of Nevada and US 95
Map of Northwest Region and US 95 Study Area

A Major Investment Study (MIS), which was completed in 1997, provided a detailed evaluation of alternative strategies designed to address the deteriorating operating conditions within the corridor and within the sub-region as a whole. The MIS study area was defined as the area bounded on the south by Desert Inn Road, on the East by I-15 and Martin Luther King Boulevard, on the north by Craig Road, and on the west by Rampart Boulevard. The entire study area was highly developed and characterized by predominantly residential land uses, although commercial uses were concentrated along many of the major arterial streets. Immediately following completion of the MIS, an EIS prepared pursuant to NEPA was initiated for the same general study area and addressed the same variety of project components including highway widening, arterial street improvements and transit / TDMs.

Project Purpose

Given the ongoing and continuing expansion of the resort industry in Clark County, growth in all sectors of the county economy is expected, thereby resulting in further growth and expansion of the travel corridors which serve the study area. The Resort Corridor of Clark County, which overlaps a portion of the Northwest Region study area, includes downtown Las Vegas and the "Las Vegas Strip." Because of the importance of the Resort Corridor as an employment center and its central geographic location within the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area, the other regions radiate outward from the Resort Corridor. The Northwest Region study area is linked to the Resort Corridor by a number of major roadways that include US 95 and such arterial roadways as Rancho Drive, Washington Avenue, Charleston Boulevard, Sahara Avenue, Desert Inn Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard. All of these roadways provide a system of alternative routes between the study area and the Resort Corridor.

Proposed Arterial Street Connectivity Improvement Near Martin L. King and Industrial Road Left: before
proposed
arterial street
connectivity
improvement
Right: after
proposed
connectivity
improvement
to Martin L.
King and
Industrial
Road
Proposed Arterial Street Connectivity Improvement Near Martin L. King and Industrial Road

At present, operating conditions on US 95 are poor due to insufficient capacity to accommodate heavy travel demands. The poor operating travel conditions on the highway are anticipated to continue to deteriorate as population growth and resulting travel demands continue to increase within the region as a whole. As a result, the arterial roadway network that serves the study area will also experience lowered levels of service and deteriorating travel conditions.

The project addressed within the MIS and the EIS documents was designed to meet the short and long-term transportation needs of the area. Its intended purpose was three-fold: 1) to provide improved transportation in response to regional growth; 2) to decrease future congestion on the existing roadway network; and 3) to enhance overall mobility within the region. The project need was based upon the projected limitations and inadequacies of the existing and proposed arterial roadway network to handle projected traffic growth through the year 2020.

How Project Development Advanced Through NEPA

Project Chronology
  • Major Investment Study: 1995-97
  • Notice of Intent Issued: Apr. 1997
  • Draft EIS Approved: Jul. 1999
  • NEPA Public Hearing: Sept. 1999
  • Final EIS Approved: Nov. 1999
  • Record of Decision: Jan. 2000

Preparation and approval of an EIS pursuant to NEPA for the US 95 Improvement Project took a total of 33 months from Notice of Intent (NOI) to Record of Decision (ROD). The MIS process was completed in advance of the start of NEPA, which contributed to the relatively fast completion of the latter process.

Major Investment Study

In December 1995, the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), in cooperation with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and Clark County, undertook a MIS for the portion of US 95 servicing the Northwest Region of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The study area included US 95, the Summerlin Parkway and major arterial streets that connect US 95 to the surrounding communities.

The purpose of the MIS was to develop a program to meet the short and long-term transportation needs of the Northwest Region of the Las Vegas Valley. In that regard, the MIS identified and evaluated alternatives to address operational and congestion issues on US 95 and major arterial streets, as well as to accommodate continued growth of the region. The MIS was conducted in two phases; the first phase was designed to identify which alternatives would be effective in reducing congestion and improving mobility while the second phase presented a detailed evaluation of alternative strategies to meet the short and long-term transportation needs of the region. Through a series of public meetings, workshops, and agency meetings, a Locally Preferred Alternative was identified. The study was completed in April 1997, setting the stage for the NEPA process.

NEPA EIS Process

Key Factors of the NEPA Process
  • MIS previously introduced project to agencies and public
  • Coordination meetings with resource agencies
  • Concurrent reviews of draft EIS sections
  • Extensive public involvement program

Shortly after the MIS was completed, the NEPA EIS process began with the issuance of a Notice of Intent (NOI) in April 1997. One month later, in May 1997, the first formal scoping meeting was held. In combination with the preceding MIS process, the EIS process included over one hundred public meetings, public presentations, agency and public official meetings, and other outreach efforts.

Agencies Involved in the NEPA Process
  • Nevada DOT
  • Regional Transportation Commission
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Federal Transit Administration
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Environmental Protection Agency

At the outset of the NEPA process, the FHWA Nevada Division requested that NDOT engage in a partnering process with the State and Federal resource agencies involved in the project. The goal of the partnering effort was to have the agencies pledge to work together and commit staff and other resources to the project in order to expedite the project. Most of the agencies were willing to commit the requested resources, but reserved their right to cooperation. As a result, the partnering effort didn't work as intended. As stated by Roger Patton, Project Manager for the Louis Berger Group, the consultant working with NDOT: "The partnering process failed miserably. The resource agencies were willing to commit to timely reviews, but felt that even an informal cooperative agreement would compromise their regulatory status."

Viewing of US 95 Lane Configuration Under Construction
View of US-95 lane widening

Eventually, NDOT was able to engage the resource agencies in a series of coordination meetings, which were held at appropriate times throughout the process. These meetings were helpful to the NEPA process because they assured agencies that the project was moving forward. As a result, agencies were more inclined to participate and commit to the necessary level of involvement. Through these coordination meetings, the resource agencies became familiar with the specifics of the project and were able to offer their insight as technical issues arose.

As soon as a draft section of the EIS was prepared, it was given to the resource agencies for review and comment, instead of going through internal review at NDOT first. These concurrent reviews "were very beneficial, saving time over the usual process" said Roger Patton. The coordination meetings provided the setting for review sessions covering the draft EIS sections.

Following more than two years of public outreach, agency coordination, further evaluations, and revisions, the Draft EIS was completed and distributed for public review in July 1999, followed by the public hearings in September 1999. The Final EIS was signed in November 1999, only about two months after the public hearings on the Draft EIS were held. A Record of Decision was then filed in January 2000.

Project Snapshot
  • Widening of existing US 95 and Summerlin highway
  • New arterial street connections
  • Arterial street improvements
  • Transit system improvements
  • Transportation demand measures
Source: US 95 Final EIS

Preferred Alternative

The Preferred Alternative, which was initially identified during the MIS process and carried forward to the EIS process, sought to meet the needs of the Northwest Region of the Las Vegas Valley through the following improvements and strategies:

  • Widening a five-mile segment of US 95 from four to six lanes and a second five-mile segment of US 95 from six to ten lanes;
  • Widening the three-mile long Summerlin Parkway, which serves as a major arterial to access US 95, from four to six lanes;
  • Constructing high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and ramp meters on US 95 and Summerlin Parkway;
  • Installing a freeway management system, which would be used to observe traffic conditions, provide traveler information, promote incident management, and balance corridor traffic demand;
  • Improving a variety of arterial street connections and conditions;
  • Enhancing bus transit service; and
  • Pursuing several transportation demand management (TDM) actions.
Color coded Improvement Identification and Location Map of Sites Along US 95
Map of Project Area Improvements

Together, this package of improvements and strategies adequately fulfilled the project purpose while minimizing environmental impacts. Therefore, this alternative continued to be viewed as the Preferred Alternative from the latter portion of the MIS process to throughout the EIS process.

Other Alternatives Considered

In addition to the Preferred Alternative, NDOT seriously considered two other alternatives during the EIS process. These included a No-Build Alternative and "Alternative B." Together, these alternatives comprised a subset of a more complete range of alternatives that had been identified and evaluated in the MIS.

The No-Build Alternative assumed that the existing local and regional roadway system would essentially remain in its current configuration, except that normal maintenance and repair of existing facilities would occur, as would the construction of all other improvements included in the regional transportation plan. The EIS concluded that the No-Build was not a viable replacement since traffic volumes would continue to increase, traffic flow conditions would continue to decline, and accident rates would potentially increase, as well as other negative impacts. However, the No-Build was used as the baseline against which to evaluate improvements resulting from the Preferred Alternative and "Alternative B."

"Alternative B" was essentially the same as the Preferred Alternative, except that the alignment of US 95 would be shifted to the south between Valley View Boulevard and Rancho Drive. As a result, "Alternative B" would have led to greater agency controversy due to anticipated adverse impacts to: 1) the Las Vegas Bearpoppy, which is a plant listed as a federal species of concern; 2) the Las Vegas Springs National Register Site; and 3) water production facilities at the Las Vegas Valley Water District North Well Field. Because of these issues, "Alternative B" was not selected as the Preferred Alternative.

Alternative B Right of Way Acquisition Map
Alternative B Right of Way Acquisition Map

Environmental and Other Issues

There were several issues associated with the Preferred Alternative that were identified in the EIS document. These issues included residential and business displacements, impacts to community facilities and cohesion, noise impacts, and Section 4(f) impacts.

A major issue involved the acquisition of 396 residences and the displacement of approximately 942 persons within five neighborhoods. In addition, up to 55 businesses and 1,367 employees could be displaced. In order to minimize these impacts, provisions for reimbursement of property loss at fair market value, moving expenses, supplemental housing payments, and advisory services for relocation were proposed. Indirect impacts consisted of changes in access to and from central meeting places, motorist and pedestrian circulation, and visual and noise level conditions. Several community facilities would also be directly impacted, including: property takings at a city park; acquisition and displacement of an elementary school and associated recreational facilities; acquisition of landscaped frontage from another elementary school; and elimination of a pedestrian path and bikeway adjacent to a portion of US 95. These impacts were proposed to be mitigated through a combination of reconstruction, functional replacement and/or relocation of facilities.

Summary of Environmental Issues
  • Residential and business displacements
  • Impacts to community facilities
  • Impacts to community cohesion
  • Increase in noise levels
  • Section 4(f) impacts
Source: US 95 Final EIS

Noise impacts attributed to the US 95 and Summerlin Parkway widenings were predicted at a total of 1,663 single-family residences, 4,851 multi-family residences, three schools, two churches, one park, a hospital, a golf club and two hotels. In addition, 2,656 single-family residences, 1,382 multi-family residences, three schools and a church were predicted to experience noise impacts following proposed arterial roadway improvements. The vast majority of noise impacts associated with the two major highway widenings were anticipated to be mitigated through the construction of noise barriers.

A Section 4(f) evaluation was also prepared due to the anticipated impacts to public recreational facilities.

Current Status

As of August, 2002, the section of US 95 between Rainbow Boulevard and Craig Road has been constructed. The Valley View Drive, Decatur Boulevard, and Rainbow Boulevard interchanges and bridge structures are being advanced as the next construction contracts. The advancement of those interchanges, which are critical to improving the operations of US 95 during rush hour periods, is under final design and is expected to be under construction by the end of 2002. In addition, consultants are augmenting NDOT staff in the right-of-way process. This entire project is presently broken down into five different contracts and is expected to be completed by 2006/07.

Typical Noise Barrier Under Construction
A typical noise barrier being constructed

A Section 4(f) evaluation was also prepared due to the anticipated impacts to public recreational facilities.

Current Status

As of August, 2002, the section of US 95 between Rainbow Boulevard and Craig Road has been constructed. The Valley View Drive, Decatur Boulevard, and Rainbow Boulevard interchanges and bridge structures are being advanced as the next construction contracts. The advancement of those interchanges, which are critical to improving the operations of US 95 during rush hour periods, is under final design and is expected to be under construction by the end of 2002. In addition, consultants are augmenting NDOT staff in the right-of-way process. This entire project is presently broken down into five different contracts and is expected to be completed by 2006/07.

A recent development is that the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit regarding the concern for potential health risks of expanding the freeway and their perception that such effects were not sufficiently studied. Of particular concern to the Sierra Club has been the potential for increased cancer risks over the long term, due to increased air pollution caused by increased traffic. The Sierra Club requested to have the EIS reevaluated, but FHWA is filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, citing among other things, the time that has elapsed since the issuance of the Record of Decision.

Lessons Learned

Several factors helped expedite the NEPA process for the US 95 Improvement Project. These included:

Viewing a Section of the US 95 Widening
View of Lane Widening Construction
  • Capitalizing on previous studies to build momentum for the NEPA process,
  • Early, proactive coordination between key agencies,
  • Concurrent reviews of draft EIS sections, and
  • Implementing an extensive public involvement program.

These factors are discussed in detail below.

Capitalize on Earlier Studies to Build Momentum for the NEPA Process

The relatively short timeframe of 33 months for completing the NEPA process was largely attributable to the earlier MIS produced in cooperation by NDOT, Clark County, the Cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and the RTC. The MIS, which was readily available to the public for review, focused the involved parties on the pertinent corridor issues in advance of the NEPA process, thereby enabling the issues to be addressed promptly and effectively. Additionally, agencies that were key participants in expediting the NEPA process had the advantage of having already worked together on the earlier study. Therefore, they were better equipped to coordinate with each other and complete tasks in a timely fashion due to the knowledge and availability of resources.

Early, Proactive Coordination

"Every issue was tackled
head–on ... "

–Daryl James, NDOT

As discussed previously, there were some coordination issues with the partnering effort initiated by the FHWA Nevada Division. However, NDOT was eventually able to engage the pertinent agencies in a series of coordination meetings that were helpful in expediting the NEPA process. These meetings enabled the agencies to meet in person, become familiar with the specifics of the project, and offer their insights as issues arose. In the end, all the key agencies did their part to proactively produce the EIS with expediency.

Concurrent Reviews of Preliminary Draft EIS Section

The concurrent review capability between the local, state, and federal partners is a great example of streamlining the NEPA process. While there were no actual streamlining agreements, coordination meetings were held to apprise agencies of developing issues prior to sections of the EIS being completed. Since the project entailed several issues that required in-depth analysis, such as residential and business displacements, and community facility and recreational impacts, the review of this material was very burdensome. Once a draft section of the EIS was prepared, it was sent immediately to the resource agencies for review and comment, instead of going through the internal review process first. The advance copies allowed the meetings to be more productive since there was a greater awareness of the project and upcoming issues. All of the agencies indicated that this procedure was very beneficial to the rapid movement of the NEPA process.

Public Involvement

There was an extensive amount of public involvement for the US 95 Improvement Project. This was partially the result of pressure by local residents and businesses, as well as a tremendous amount of pressure from political leaders. Since the project would displace 396 homes, 55 businesses, a school, a park, and a pedestrian / bikeway facility, the project received plenty of public and political attention. Additionally, an extra push from the political arena made sure that no corners were cut and no issues were left unconsidered. While there is still some opposition to the project, such as the potential health risk lawsuit brought on by the Sierra Club, overall there was not a lot of unexpected controversy surrounding the project. This can be attributed to the extensive public involvement that took place due to the coordination of the project's leaders.

References

Ted Bendure
FHWA Nevada Division
705 No. Plaza Street, Suite 220
Carson City, Nevada 89701
775-687-5322

Daryl James
Nevada Department of Transportation
1263 South Stewart Street
Carson City, NV 89712
775-888-7490

Roger Patton
Louis Berger Group, Inc
500 Amigo Court, Suite 100
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-736-6632

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