The NEWS with Tim O'Callaghan

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Action needed on U.S. 93 now

This first published November 13, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

Wake up, Gov. Gibbons! The clock is ticking, and before we know it the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge will be open and the traffic nightmare may very well be real.

In July last year, Robert Malone, a contributing editor at Forbes.com, scribed an article titled “America’s Killer Roads.” In it he names U.S. 93 between Hoover Dam and Wickenburg as one of the deadliest roads in America.

I can’t say too much about the entire distance, but one thing is for sure: I have plenty to say about the six or so miles west of Hoover Dam and then the next 16 mile east of Hoover Dam.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, travelers definitely put the lives of themselves and their families in harm’s way when driving the short 22 miles of two-lane highway. It was a constant battle between 18-wheelers chugging up hills then racing down hills and impatient drivers getting in or out of Las Vegas.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, all 18-wheelers have been banned from crossing the dam and rerouted over to Laughlin and up U.S. 95 through Searchlight.

This has been an excellent solution, especially with all the improvements made to U.S. 95, such as several passing lanes, divided highway sections and the relatively flat terrain.

The 22 miles of U.S. 93 to Boulder City, although it has improved with the absence of trucks, still remains deadly. The tractor-trailers have been replaced by reckless tour buses, unsure tourists and other assorted vehicles going and returning from Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk.

I have lost count of the near-misses and many crashes while driving between Hoover Dam and the point 16 miles south where U.S. 93 becomes a divided highway.

The most common culprit is the impatient driver not satisfied with the posted 65 mph speed limit. During the past three years, I have had a few close calls requiring evasive and dangerous maneuvers to avoid a head-on collision, including hard braking, ditch diving and rail sliding. One time, I was inches from the guardrail going south, while the northbound vehicle being passed was in dirt. The impatient jerk between us was zipping past without a care in the world.

Even though the Arizona Department of Transportation has plans to widen the road east of the dam, there are no set plans for the short length of the 93 between the Hacienda Hotel and Buchanan Boulevard in Boulder City.

So what does this have to do with Gov. Gibbons? U.S. 93 is controlled by the state, and traffic controls have to be approved by the Nevada Department of Transportation. The NDOT director is appointed by the governor. A plan needs to be under way now to stop an impending train wreck.

Granted, I’ve never been a fan of creating a bypass around Boulder City because of economic concerns for the city. I fear that a bypass would take all of the car traffic off of Boulder City streets and leave Nevada Way blowing in the wind like Seligman, Ariz., after Interstate 40 was built.

Even if I were a fan, the project is so far down on the list of state highway projects, it won’t see the light of the drafting table for years — or should I say the pixel of the CAD anytime soon.

Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could find a way to keep the big rigs flowing down U.S. 95 or through Laughlin until a safe solution is in place. That might be a no-win proposition for the senator to even address, however. Some gadfly would say he was trying to profit by keeping the traffic flowing through Searchlight, his hometown, if he advocated such a move. Another gadfly might accuse him of trying to get the traffic away from Searchlight if he opposed it.

This kind of controversy wouldn’t be anything new. Several years ago, he had gotten funding to widen U.S. 95 through Searchlight from a two-lane road to a divided highway. Back then, U.S. 95 was a blood alley and many lives had been lost on it. A group of yahoos accused him of trying to increase the value of his property by improving the roadway — which by the way was pure BULL. You could have gotten all the traffic in the world to Searchlight, and it wouldn’t improve the values without a water source or sewer options. Searchlight has limited water resources for the present or near future, for that matter. Needless to say, the opposition delayed the funding for the road. In my opinion, many more people died unnecessarily on U.S. 95 because of distorted reasoning.

Because of Nevada’s vast open space, the Forbes.com article hits home for me because our kids — and many of yours — drive long and narrow roads through rural Nevada to get home for the holidays.

According to Malone’s article, “In 2005, 61 percent of those killed while driving died on rural, two-lane byways, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office. In Arizona, two-lane roads have three times the fatalities as four-lane roads. In California, more than half of all fatal accidents are on two-lane roads. In both Texas and Connecticut, they account for two-thirds of fatal accidents. Overall, rural roads account for less than half of the total miles in the U.S., yet are bigger killers than the interstates or urban streets.”

Perhaps because the bridge is partially named for my father, I feel a responsibility to point out its potential hazards and to remind the governor that he needs to do the right thing before 2010 gets here and the nightmare begins.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the Home News, can be reached at 990-2656 or tim.oc@vegas.com. He writes a regular column One Man's View.