NO. 3 ROAD: A road with a view

Scenic byway in conservation area undergoes thorough rehabilitation

Tim Bruns / October 05, 2017
Top Road No. 3 2017

Situated only 15 miles outside the famous Las Vegas strip, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is comprised of 198,000 acres of protected, nationally significant geological and ecological resources.

Stretching through the conservation area is a 13-mile-long one-way picturesque roadway known as Scenic Loop Drive, or the 13-mile Scenic Drive, which serves as a path for tourists in the area who pay a visit to the canyon. Since the early 2000s, the number of visitors to Red Rock Canyon has jumped from roughly 800,000 to 2.5 million annually.

“This area is very popular all over the world for climbing and for the scenic byway that people come out to enjoy,” Catrina Williams, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s southern Nevada district, told Roads & Bridges. “It’s mentioned in the tourism world as one of the No. 1 places to visit for southern Nevada.” Seeking to improve the visitor experience for the climbing number of tourists at Red Rock, the Bureau of Land Management put together plans for transportation and safety improvements along the scenic byway that included two new bridges, a flood warning system, four parking area expansions which included adding 200 parking spaces, signage overhaul and road rehabilitation.

The agency determined the needs for these improvements after conducting a transportation study for the area. Improvements to the Red Rock National Conservation Area began in early 2015. One objective for the Bureau of Land Management was to make sure that work could be done on the byway with minimal impact to visitor traffic. “We were able to get out in front with messaging to the locals in the area through social media and newspapers to let them know what to expect,” Williams said. The agency’s traffic-control strategies allowed Scenic Loop Drive to remain open for vehicles, cyclists and runners visiting the area.

The addition of two new bridges solved a flooding problem for the byway. The original roadway was created with low water crossings at two major washes along Scenic Loop Drive that were subject to debris flow, including floodwater and boulders, during heavy rains. This often resulted in repeated road closures, which would leave visitors stranded along the one-way byway. The new bridges, however, were built higher than the washes, allowing traffic to continue to flow during flood conditions. “We experienced some flooding last year and this year, and we were happy to report that there were no closures due to flooding,” Williams said.

The improvements on the project were expected to be complete by the end of September 2017, just in time for the busy season at Red Rock. “Our busy season will be coming soon around Thanksgiving,” Williams said. “And that’s the time when all of our parking lots fill up, so these 200 additional spaces are certainly going to help with that.”

Project: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Location: Las Vegas, Nev.

Owner: Bureau of Land Management

Designer: Central Federal Lands Highway Division

Contractors: Wadley Construction; Las Vegas Paving

Cost: $12,770,000

Length: 13 miles

Completion Date: September 2017

About the Author

Bruns is associate editor of Roads & Bridges.

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