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Dispute puts Tropicana/I-15 project timeline in jeopardy

Approval of the contractor and design for the $305 million Interstate 15/Tropicana interchange project has been delayed twice and if it is delayed again, vital funding for the project could be in jeopardy.

Eliminating the signaled intersection at Dean Martin Drive and Tropicana Avenue is at the center of the issue. The Nevada Department of Transportation considers the signal’s removal critical to the project, which is expected to get underway early next year.

The project will revamp the southbound I-15 to eastbound Tropicana flyover ramp, with the overall scope aimed at increasing traffic flow to the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium. Plans for the interchange also include reconfiguring Dean Martin to run underneath Tropicana and eliminating the traffic signal at Tropicana.

A site map presented during a recent meeting of the Transportation Board displayed a massive resort with various hotel towers, a large casino and various parking structures on the northwest corner of Tropicana and Dean Martin. There would be multiple access points in the proposed road construction plan, including from Dean Martin and from Tropicana.

Station Casinos owns the almost 100-acre plot of land where the Wild Wild West property sits and has long had preliminary plans to construct a megaresort on site. It should be noted there are no immediate plans to begin the project, with Station Casinos not providing any timeline of when that could occur.

The local gaming giant is concerned about the possible impact nixing the signal at the intersection could pose to its potential resort and asked if plans could include a left turn lane from eastbound Tropicana to northbound Dean Martin.

But the request would affect the environmental review process, leading to delays that would risk losing a $50 million grant, according to NDOT spokesman Ryan McInerney.

“Over the past four years, NDOT has been actively working with Station Casinos and dozens of other community partners in the planning and design of the I-15 Tropicana Project, which will reduce congestion, allow for future I-15 expansion, and make other improvements in this critical resort corridor,” McInerney said. “Station has been a strong supporter of the I-15 Tropicana Project over the past few years, which is evidenced by their two letters of support for NDOT’s INFRA Grant applications (2019, 2020) seeking federal funding for the project.”

NDOT officials met with Station representatives on at least 10 occasions to discuss the I-15 Tropicana Project, the environmental review process, and to address Station’s concerns.

NDOT said removing the traffic signal at the intersection of Tropicana and Dean Martin is needed to reduce long traffic signal wait times and address other I-15 issues.

“Studies conducted in 2017 showed vehicles at the Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin interchange currently experience unreasonable delays — waiting an average of three minutes at the signal and creating backups along the I-15 north and south offramps,” McInerney said. “The I-15 Tropicana Project model showed that the new design would decrease wait times by 90 percent.”

At the board’s October meeting, Scott Kreeger, senior vice president of development for Station Casinos, said the resort company is not trying to disrupt the project, it just wants to ensure its planned project won’t be negatively impacted.

“We’re not here to blow this project up, that is not our intention,” Kreeger said. “What our intention is, is to have a fair engagement of our concerns, with some solutions tied to them.”

If no changes are made to the intersection, NDOT said vehicle back-ups would likely grow significantly, resulting in the blocking of businesses, impacting public transportation and emergency vehicles, and possibly restricting resort access to Station’s proposed development.

Since October, NDOT and the projected contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West, have met eight times at which multiple options were proposed.

“Most of these options are for possible construction by Station at a future date when the site is developed,” McInerney said. “NDOT has committed to continuing to work closely with Station to ensure none of the project improvements create obstacles or hinder the future development of the property. However, any improvements proposed to be included in the I-15 Tropicana Project would need to have minimal impacts to the project footprint.”

If anything required major changes, not only would there be a risk of losing the $50 million federal grant but new costs could add another $10 million to the project and delay it up to two years, NDOT said.

Whatever occurs, Gov. Steve Sisolak stated at the October meeting that he hopes the situation will come to a compromise that benefits all parties, hopefully without significant impact to the budget or timing of the much-needed project.

“This is a very important project, if it moves forward, it’s a lot of jobs, it’s a lot of tax revenue and I want to make every accommodation that we possibly can to ensure the viability of this,” Sisolak said at the October meeting.

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