Nevada's Transportation Department Celebrates 100 Years

📅   Mon April 17, 2017 - West Edition #8

The Nevada Department of Transportation is celebrating 100 years with historical photos and timeline posted on the Department's website, as well as an invitation for Nevadans to share their state transportation memories.

The Nevada Department of Highways was formed on March 23, 1917 with a mission to surface the rutted dirt paths that served as the road network of the time. Historical Nevada transportation photos, videos and decade-by-decade history of the progression of state highways are now available at and by following the department on Facebook and Twitter. An historical e-book also will be published on-line this week.

Nevada residents are invited to provide memories or reflections of early Nevada transportation to potentially be included on the NDOT website and social media posts by visiting or contacting NDOT at 775/888-7000.

“We've been helping keep Nevada safe and connected for 100 years,” Sean Sever, NDOT communications director, explained. “Nevada has a rich transportation history, from the dirt paths of a century ago to today's interstates carrying as many as 300,000 vehicles every day. What we do is about connecting Nevadans, and we want to hear from fellow residents their memories of Nevada's transportation history, particularly from the first half of the twentieth century.”

Nevada State Transportation History — a Brief Overview

• The Nevada Department of Highways was formed on March 23, 1917 with a mission to surface what were often rutted dirt paths first forged by pioneers.

• Highway construction of the time was an arduous undertaking through Nevada's desert expanses, with teams of horses grading the roads.

• In January 1919, the Department's first construction project built a trestle bridge over the Humboldt River in Pershing County at a cost of $10,953. In the same year, a $72,000 project kicked off to build a concrete roadway from Reno to almost 6 mi. south.

• In the mid-1920s, the state's 45 mph speed limit was removed and replaced with a guideline to limit speeds to that of “sane and safe driving.”

• In 1923, another vital source of transportation funding was forged as the state gasoline tax came into being as an important resource for developing the state's transportation system.

• In 1929, the last Nevada link of U.S. Highway 91 near Apex was oiled, providing a smooth highway from California across Nevada between the California and Arizona state borders. In later years, it would pave the way for Nevada's busiest interstate, I-15, which now travels alongside the iconic Las Vegas Strip.

• In 1931, a 124-ft. (38 m) long tunnel was blasted through Lake Tahoe's Cave Rock to create a roadway, bypassing a previously harrowing drive alongside the lakeside rock face.

• A traffic safety program was launched in 1936. Within two short years, the department's driving safety literature and programs became so popular that 12 safety committees were formed across the state to spread the word.

• As World War II erupted, many highway employees left to fight the war. The department's 1940-1942 Biennial Report was dedicated “to those very fine young men who have left this department to go into the service of our country, and with the sincere hope that they will all return to resume their duties with the department as soon as the world is safe for decent-living people.”

• In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act to build 41,000 mi. (65,983 km) of interstate highway across the nation. Nevada then had a pivotal role in completion of the interstate system when a new section of interstate in Lovelock was completed, eliminating the last traffic signal on Interstate 80 between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

• While there had been no speed limit for decades, a speed limit law established lower speed zones on certain sections of highways in 1955.

• In the 1960s, a hard hat and safety vest program was implemented; requiring NDOT employees to wear safety vests while working on the roadway.

• The original Las Vegas Spaghetti Bowl was completed in 1968. The interchange connected Interstate 15 to the new, crosstown Las Vegas Expressway.

• On Sept. 25, 1975, the I-80 Carlin Tunnels west of Elko were opened to traffic. The tunnels provide smoother, safer interstate travel by bypassing a sharply curvy stretch of U.S. Highway 40 alongside the Humboldt River.

• As the 1970s ended, the Department of Highways changed its name to the Nevada Department of Transportation, seeking balanced transportation policy and planning and incorporating state social, environmental and economic goals.

• In 1985, NDOT led the transportation industry by installing a Road Weather Information System (RWIS) along Mt. Rose Highway south of Reno. System sensors transmit road condition information and temperatures, allowing NDOT to better control when, where and how much sand and salt is used on winter roads.

• U.S. Highway 50 was officially named the “Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in 1986.

• In the 1990s, NDOT embarked on a list of “super highway” construction plans totaling $1.5 billion in response to a statewide population explosion. The super highway strategy included widening Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and the California state line, widening U.S. Highway 95 in the northwest Las Vegas Valley, extending Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City, improving U.S. Highway 93 through Boulder City and starting construction on the Las Vegas Beltway.

• In 1991, the Nevada State Legislature established a bicycle and pedestrian planning position within NDOT, responsible for integrating the needs of bicyclists into NDOT road projects and programs.

• In January 1997, downtown Reno/Sparks streets flooded and bridges across the Truckee River were closed as water surged across roadways. Westbound lanes of Interstate 80 near the Helms Pit in Sparks crumbled. Large rocks and 125,000 cu. yds. (95,569 cu m) of material were dumped into the south end of the pit and the roadway was stabilized in six days.

• In 1998, the department implemented the Freeway Service Patrol, a fleet of vans that cruise the freeways to help keep traffic safely flowing.

• A makeover of the Interstate 515 and 215 Beltway interchange, known as the “Henderson Spaghetti Bowl,” broke ground in September 2003.

• The first segment of the Carson City Freeway, consisting of a 3.5 -mi. (5.6 km)-long freeway from U.S. 50 to U.S. 395 north of Carson City, was completed in 2006.

• The department began using technology to better manage congestion by building the Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation in 2005. The $15 million complex in southwest Clark County was launched to manage and monitor traffic in the state's three largest cities — Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas — through 600 cameras and a network of pavement, Bluetooth and microwave sensors.

• Statewide traffic fatalities reached an all-time high in 2006 with more than 430 lives lost on Nevada roads. Collaboratively with traffic and safety stakeholders across the state, the department launched the Strategic Highway Safety Plan in 2006. To this day, the plan identifies targeted strategies to save lives on Nevada roads through its Zero Fatalities program.

• The Hoover Dam bypass bridge opened on Oct. 19, 2010. The four-lane bridge, soaring nearly 90 stories above the Colorado River, eliminated the narrow switchbacks and low travel speeds that had long plagued U.S. 93 crossing the dam.

• In 2012, an 8.5 -mi. (13.7 km) extension of Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City was constructed including a 1,722-ft. (525 m)-long, 295-ft. (90 m)-tall cathedral-arch bridge traversing the Galena Creek.

• In 2015, NDOT broke ground on the first phase of the long-awaited Interstate 11 in Boulder City. Interstate 11 will improve motorist safety and convenience while reducing travel time by 30 minutes with a direct link bypassing Boulder City. The project marks the first new infrastructure to the Interstate Highway System since it was deemed complete in 1992. Construction is scheduled for completion in late 2017.

• In 2016, the state embarked upon an even bigger undertaking with “Project Neon” – the largest and most expensive public works project ever undertaken during Nevada's 152-year history. The nearly $1 billion project will widen 3.7 mi. (6 km) of Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the “Spaghetti Bowl” interchange in downtown Las Vegas.

• Today, the department builds, maintains and operates 13,000-plus lane mi. of state road; roads which have been ranked among the nation's smoothest. More than one and a half million bus rides are provided every year on federal transit money NDOT administers to rural Nevada transit providers. Meanwhile, by rail and air, NDOT supports regional and rural aviation and railroad services to safely heighten Nevada's transportation and tourist options.