MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DRIVING DOWNTOWN
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Call it the Downtown Slalom.
Like a downhill skier, drivers in and around downtown Las Vegas have to swing left, swing right and navigate a bewildering maze of closed streets, blocked lanes and seemingly omnipresent bright orange traffic cones that sprout from the asphalt overnight.
Often, the blocked streets and traffic cones don’t seem to serve any function other than, well, impeding traffic.
Driving downtown, you see signs of blocked lanes on Main Street, Ogden Avenue, First Street, Fourth Street, Sixth Street, Seventh Street, Ninth Street, 10th Street, Casino Center Boulevard, Bonneville Avenue, Garces Avenue, Gass Avenue, Maryland Parkway and the region’s most important commercial artery, Las Vegas Boulevard. (We do not in any way suggest that this is a comprehensive listing.)
Not all the downtown streets are blocked for road changes; some are blocked to give room for workers on properties targeted by Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. But add the Downtown Project to roadway work, and you’ve got a mess.
At times, some businesses have been completely marooned on islands amid a sea of construction. Andres Ramirez is the boss at Ramirez Group, a public-affairs and marketing company in the legal district, on 7th Street.
“It has impacted our business,” Ramirez said recently. Early in September, workers tore up both Bonneville and Clark Avenue, effectively sealing off his business from any would-be customers.
“For a few days, they completely blocked us out,” he said. “There was no way of physically driving to our office.”
He complained to the city and to the contractor, the ubiquitous Las Vegas Paving Co., and got some relief.
Bonneville, though, has been an ongoing headache for Ramirez and his office neighbors since January. The asphalt has been removed, but visits throughout the third week of September found little or no trace of work on the closed-off road.
The work on Bonneville was temporarily halted because of recent rains, said city spokeswoman Diana Paul, and the denuded roadway had to dry out before reconstruction.
“Bonneville is currently closed from Las Vegas Boulevard to Maryland Parkway,” she said. There’s north-south access on Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets, but no cross access from Ninth to 11th.
The good news for downtown businesses is that paving on Bonneville from Seventh to Las Vegas Boulevard should be complete in two to three weeks, Paul said.
But not before another headache. Las Vegas Boulevard will close to traffic from Garces to Clark this weekend, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday night and going until Monday. The contractor will replace the asphalt on the entire roadway.
Paul said the city has contracts for about $26 million in downtown road work, including $9 million that is slated to begin soon.
“It’s nice to do improvements, but we’re going to be shut down for three days,” said Rich Burgel, boss at Las Vegas Antiques on Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonneville. The store has a mixture of pop-culture and Las Vegas-specific mementos and souvenirs from the founding of the city to the present, and is popular with many visitors who are coming to see the television stars at Gold and Silver Pawn Shop a block south.
Burgel said that his business has been cut in half by the road construction around the store.
“It’s crazy. I don’t know what they’re doing. The streets were fine,” he said. “They don’t realize the impact they have on a small business, and it just kills us.”
Changes in bus routes and weekend parades events that shut down Las Vegas Boulevard haven’t helped any, Burgel said.
“If it’s not the road construction, every weekend there’s a Walk for Life or a parade or something,” he said.
And everywhere you look downtown, there are bright orange cones. There are cones where there is construction, there are cones where there is no construction. There are cones on sidewalks, on roadways, in empty lots. There are cones on Las Vegas Boulevard and on all the side streets. There are cones atop cones.
“The cones,” Burgel said with a hint of horror. “They’re everywhere! That’s our state bush.”