A key phase of one of the largest development projects to come through the Southwest Region (and Lake Mead National Recreation Area) in its time came to completion on August 9th, 2018 during my internship: the I-11 Boulder City bypass.

The idea/need of constructing a 4-lane highway that would connect two major cities in the Southwest (Las Vegas & Phoenix) through a National Park initially seems counter intuitive. However, after learning more about the area and the project, ultimately the project seemed to be beneficial for all stakeholders including the park and surrounding lands.

In recent years, the Las Vegas Valley has been rapidly growing and developing. As the area became more popular, Highway 93 (previously the only road that had gone through the quiet town of Boulder City, NV) started seeing more freight traffic and heavier road congestion. While this may have contributed to and increased amount of visitors to the small businesses in Boulder City, as well Park’s Visitor Center, the increased amount of tractor-trailer traffic made the two lane mountain road slightly treacherous, especially at night. The idea behind the bypass was to make the smaller, local main roads in Boulder City a little safer as the Valley continues to grow, perhaps even preserve a little more of the wildlife character that the National Parks are know for, as the new I-11 would move the main traffic corridor away from the Park’s main entrance from Boulder City.

Only a few days after officially opening to the public, there were already 2 fatalities on the the I-11 bypass.

The completion of this project required a high level of inter-agency collaboration, years of planning, impact assessment, plan revisions, and mitigation/restoration. The project would feature a scenic overlook that looked directly over the lake into the Park. The mountainous lands adjacent to the asphalt were cut to look “natural”, and lands were hydro-seeded and planted with young desert plants as well as transplants. Needless to say, the Song Dog Native Plant Nursery had been kept busy over the last few years with preparations for this project. How could something that had undergone such extensive planning result in 2 fatalities within just a few days of being open?

This opens the door to questioning in terms of how adequate, appropriate, and extensive the planning phases were. How could these fatalities have been prevented? What measures could have been taken to ensure that the public would be able to navigate and adapt to this new traffic pattern?

How much planning is enough planning? What is the main focal point during the planning stages? Who is ultimately responsible for the safety of the larger public on a project like this?

While commerce in the Southwest will inevitably thrive from this new development, the unforeseen costs to the lives of those who reside on the periphery– the locals and the wildlife– already seem to be rather steep.

What are your thoughts?

Written by Aiyesha Ghani
Aiyesha (Arowak/Taino & East Indian) was born in Maricopa County, AZ and has lived all across the globe since then, but has always touched base on the island of Borinkén (US Puerto Rico) where her heart calls home. In 2006, she completed a B.A. degree in Anthro-ecology and Global Development from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU and has worked in the non-profit, private, and goverment sectors over the last 10 years. Prior to being selected for LHIP 2018, she was living and working in Miami as an artist/production tech/cultural advocate. She is passionate about facilitating sustainable development, preserving our waters (Love the Everglades and Debris-Free Miami), and protecting living cultures & languages.