Officials with the Nevada Department of Transportation made a special trip to the first Nye County Commission meeting of the year to provide the board with an overview of the nearly 28-mile, multi-million dollar improvement project targeting Highway 160 between Las Vegas and the Pahrump Valley.
A project of high interest to local residents, the Highway 160 improvements have been underway since September of 2018. With such extensive work being done, motorists will have to deal with the construction for many more months to come as the completion date is pegged at July, 2020.
NDOT Crew 906 Resident Engineer Don Christiansen detailed that the project actually consists of two distinct parts, both of which were wrapped into a single $59 million contract with Aggregate Industries SWR. “For clarity, I call one of them the mountainous area which is over Mountain Springs pass and down to the other side. The other I call the roadbed modification area, where the highway divides heading toward Pahrump and extending for about 22 miles to a little bit past the Nye County line,” Christiansen said.
Over the mountain
The mountainous portion addresses the Mountain Springs community where, due to safety concerns and the high number of vehicle crashes that have occurred there, the highway is being widened to include two lanes in each direction with a permanent barrier rail. Additionally, to provide safer and more convenient access for those who live in Mountain Springs, a new frontage road is also being constructed.
The area is not just home to humans, however, and the resident plants and animals must also being taken into account. Christiansen explained, “This will have wildlife exclusion fencing and there will be an undercrossing bridge to keep the Desert Big Horn Sheep, the burros, deer and elk from being hit… There will also be a fair amount of landscape upgrades… We did salvage over 1,700 cactus and yuccas that will be transplanted into the project. And the trees that we removed, we are going to bring back or we are going to plant over 700 juniper, mountain mahogany and those kinds of trees.”
While crews labor on the project, the speed limit has been reduced from 55 miles per hour to 35 through Mountain Springs and 45 on the eastern side of the community. Once everything is finished, the speed limit will be permanently lowered to 45 miles per hour in the entire mountainous region.
To accommodate the new frontage roads and lanes, construction includes period of blasting, which have the potential to delay traffic for up to two hours. Christiansen noted that blasting is also permitted to be performed up to twice a week and two times per day. Blasting generally starts at 12:45 p.m. and will continue until March, when a break of several months will occur. Blasting will then resume again in the second half of 2019.
The Pahrump side
On the western side of the mountain, Christiansen said, “The east-bound paving is failing. You may have noticed, those that drive it, the bad cracks. It’s in danger of a bad failure so that is why we are combining these two projects and doing them at the same time. It’s very much needed.”
Roadbed modification work includes rebuilding the east-bound lanes, occuring in three phases. Each phase will be seven to eight miles long and three to four months in duration, with the total project expected to take 11 months.
While construction crews work in the area, all traffic will be redirected. As only the east-bound travel lanes are in need of repair, both directions of traffic will be shifted to the two west-bound lanes. For an added safety measure, barriers will be placed to separate those lanes and the speed limit, currently set at 70 miles per hour, will be dropped to just 55 miles per hour.
“It’s basically a paving upgrade. It’s not changing the alignment or much of any of the safety features. It’s just rehabbing the pavement for those 22 miles,” Christiansen said, remarking that the roadbed modification was anticipated to begin within a couple of weeks.
According to NDOT Public Information Officer Tony Illia, the project commenced on Tuesday, Jan. 15. Illia told the Pahrump Valley Times, “The switch will take place tomorrow morning between 8 and 10 a.m. for all traffic to use only the west-bound lanes for an eight-mile stretch of road, one lane in each direction.”
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org