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The good. The bad. The interstate. Results of bypass’s opening not as dire as expected

The prediction of Boulder City turning into a modern day Radiator Springs after Interstate 11 opened has not come true.

According to city officials, local spending has actually increased and the retail vacancy rate is down, even though some businesses have closed or sustained losses.

I-11 is 15 miles long and runs from Henderson to the Hoover Dam. It opened Aug. 9, 2018, and was the newest interstate in 30 years. The Nevada Department of Transportation estimated it would reduce the time to travel between those areas by as much as 30 minutes. With it bypassing all that traffic around Boulder City, businesses and residents were worried what effect it would have.

Community Development Director Michael Mays said local spending has increased by 8% and according to NDOT the traffic on Boulder City Parkway had 30% to 40% fewer vehicles in April compared to the same time period last year, which actually helped sit-down restaurants and hotels but hurt business at fast food establishments and gas stations.

“We have had a noticeable increase in business,” said Jill Bunch, owner of Chilly Jilly’z and The Patio in the 1600 block of Boulder City Parkway at the far west end of town.

Bunch said she estimates business has grown by 20% since I-11 opened. She also said new customers visit every day and more people are coming in from Henderson and Las Vegas.

Less congestion

” I for one love the bypass. Without all the traffic, none of whom stopped at any business in town, I am now able to frequent more eateries and businesses easily. My spending in town has increased because of the ease to get there,” said Mari Sue Barnes of Boulder City.

Terry Stephens, co-owner of The World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe, 512 Nevada Way, said he thought the new interstate would hurt his business, but it hasn’t.

“I thought it would have more of an effect on it, but the TV exposure has helped us through it,” he said.

Stephens also said he enjoys the smaller amount of congestion and traffic when he needs to leave town and go to Henderson or Las Vegas.

Resident Andrew Gude agreed.

“It’s great for the traffic control in and out of Boulder City. I’ve traveled in and out of Boulder City six or seven days a week for 20 years now. Love the drive back and forth now.”

Some closures, some openings

“Unfortunately, several businesses did close in the first few months of the I-11 opening,” Mays said. “However, we continue to focus on supporting the success of existing local businesses and helping new ones open. Boulder City will continue to do what it has always done: show strength, perseverance and a spirit of collaboration.”

One business, Alpaca Imports, closed three weeks after the opening citing reduced traffic. However, the closure was anticipated and planned before the interstate even opened.

Burger King, at the corner of Boulder City Parkway and Buchanan Boulevard closed at the beginning of the year.

“Among the chamber businesses, it was a very even split,” said Jill Rowland-Lagan, CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce. “Half of them felt like it would possibly hurt with the lack of volume of traffic passing their location. Half of them felt like it would be essential to alleviate the traffic congestion that was hindering customers to their location. For those businesses that felt it best to relocate … they had to make the financial decision to close or move on order to do what was best for the bottom line … . It is great to note that those locations have found new businesses willing to move into those spaces, so it has generated new energy and interest.”

Mays also said city staff is encouraged because the city’s retail and office vacancy rate has continued to decline.

“… (It’s) now at 4.5 percent which is below Las Vegas metro area rate,” he said.

Communications Manager Lisa LaPlante said the city made a commitment in its 2019 fiscal year budget to support the local business community by hiring an economic development coordinator to help make its efforts more focused and intentional.

“Raffi Festekjian, our economic development coordinator, has met with over 150 business owners since starting in the role last year,” she said. “We continue to work closely with the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce on projects that can help Boulder City draw visitors and new businesses … while respecting the history of this great community.”

Traffic issues

The opening of the interstate has helped Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which abuts the east end of the city, said its Public Affairs Officer Christie Vanover.

“More than a million people enter … through our Boulder City entrance station each year,” she said. “The I-11 has reduced traffic on U.S. Highway 93 making it easier and safer for visitors to enter and exit the park.”

Businesses and tourist destinations are not the only places in town that have been affected, according to municipal Judge Victor Miller.

“It certainly has impacted our police department and my court,” he said. “We’ve seen about twice as many speed violations in the court, mostly ticketed for speeding on the highway. It’s common for officers to stop drivers at 90, 100 miles an hour or more.”

Within the first month of it opening, four people were killed in two accidents on the highway. To help improve safety and ease confusion, NDOT and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada installed more signs on the interstate at no cost to the city.

I-11 cost $318 million and was a joint project of NDOT and RTC. It was paid for through federal and state funds with Clark County’s fuel revenue indexing tax.

I-11 will eventually connect Las Vegas to Phoenix, and the rest of the construction on the approximately 450-mile interstate could be phased over future decades, depending on funding priorities and completion of environmental studies.

The ultimate goal is to open a north-south trade route linking Mexico and Canada.

Carson Tester, a student at the University of Idaho, said he hopes the federal government will work to expand the interstate north to reach Idaho.

“It is great for all the surrounding communities,” he said.

Editor Hali Bernstein Saylor contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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