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Tim Burke: Expect more trouble ahead along U.S. 95 in Nevada

Drivers traveling on U.S. Highway 95 between Las Vegas and Northern Nevada should expect the already dangerous road to become even more dangerous over time with the steadily increasing number of semi-trucks transporting goods between the north and south’s interstate highways.

The highway also serves as a major route for snowbird RVs traveling between the north and south. The highway has long held a reputation for its deadly accidents. Just last week the 95 was shut down outside Hawthorne for hours to clear a fatal car accident and in early July there was another fatal accident near Beatty.

In Las Vegas along Interstate 15 (I-15) warehouse centers are rapidly growing. Amazon has just opened their latest warehouse in North Las Vegas, a mammoth 855,000 square foot four-story building that houses over 1,300 employees. This is the fourth facility Amazon has built in the city and the sixth in the state.

The new Amazon center is located on 120 acres near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the Tropical Distribution Center. Amazon is not the only company adding warehouse facilities at that center. It is also home to Sephora’s new 714,000-square-foot fulfillment and distribution facility that will hire 400 employees. Other companies will soon be adding more warehouses to the Tropical Center. The location benefits from easy access to the I-15 corridor that stretches from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City where it intersects Interstate 80 (I-80).

Just 9 miles east of Reno is the massive 107,000-acre Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC). The center is home to Tesla (more than 3,000 employees), Panasonic (1,200 employees), a Walmart Distribution Center (700 employees), Zulily (600), and a Switch Data Center with more companies on their way. Northern Nevada warehouse growth is not just taking place at the TRIC.

Another 15 miles east sits the rural community of Fernley. According to an article in Northern Nevada Business View, a release provided July 9 from the Reno-based PR firm Neon Agency stated that Newport Beach, Calif.-based Mark IV Capital recently purchased roughly 4,100 acres of industrial land, including over 4,000 acres on what’s known as the Crossroads Commerce Center, in the city of Fernley.

The Crossroads Commerce Center is located on both sides of I-80 at the confluence of highways 95 and 50. It is also traversed by the Union Pacific mainline. The center is home to several larger companies, including most recently, Polaris, which broke ground last spring on a $47 million distribution center. This is the second-largest industrial land purchase in Nevada history, behind the 2018 purchase by Blockchains, LLC at the TRIC. All those new warehouses mean more commercial trucks on our roads.

Connecting I-15 and I-80 is Highway 95. The highway was officially established in Nevada in 1940 and combined many existing roads to form designated Highway 95. Many of the major alignments and new construction of the highway (outside of the Las Vegas area) took place in the 1950s and 60s. Since then, the highway has had sporadic improvements with some passing lanes added, resurfacing, and shoulder improvements but it remains primarily a two-lane road through the rural sections of the state.

A major problem exists with the semi-truck traffic that clogs the highway. The trucks move well under the speed limit when heading uphill and then try to make up time by traveling over the speed limit on the flatter sections. Motorists get frustrated by the truck traffic and attempt to pass the trucks at the first opportunity. But many motorists are not experienced passing at high speeds on two-lane roads and misjudge the rate of closure to oncoming traffic. Two vehicles moving toward each other at 80 mph that are one mile apart will meet head-on in less than 25 seconds.

In addition to misjudging how fast an oncoming car is approaching you, it’s important to remember that the forces in a collision quadruple when speeds are doubled, rather than simply doubling, because kinetic energy increases with the square of velocity. To put this in practical terms, a crash at 80 mph carries four times the energy as a crash at 40 mph, even though the speed is only two times as fast. Your odds of surviving a crash dramatically decrease when speeds exceed 40 mph.

The Nevada Department of Transportation touts the future I-11 corridor as the answer to the dangerous conditions that now exist on Highway 95 but it is years in the future. Until that happens, major improvements need to be made to the 95. More passing lanes and wider shoulders with safe areas to pull over if forced off the road need to be constructed. NDOT needs to add a commercial vehicle weigh station along the route and step up enforcement of commercial trucks.

The absence of a commercial weigh station invites illegal over-the-limit loads being transported on the highway and the lack of enforcement on commercial trucks could lead to drivers ignoring their mandated rest periods.

Until I-11 is built or the 95 undergoes major safety improvements, expect the carnage to continue.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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