The massive, billion-dollar freeway development known as Project Neon is finally nearing completion. And today marks a major milestone of the project -- the debut of HOV lanes, or high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
The lanes are meant to encourage carpooling and reduce traffic on the highways. Other states like California, Arizona, and Utah currently use them.
And, they replace the express lanes on I-15.
Illia refuted that just adding more freeway lanes will solve the problem. First, the cost of constructing new freeway lanes is going up and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find space for more lanes.
"HOV lanes move more people using fewer vehicles," he said.
David Swallow, the senior engineer for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, agreed that just adding more lanes is no solution.
"We just can't pave our way to free-flowing freeways everywhere all the time for everyone," he said.
Swallow pointed to Houston as an example of a city that widened one of its large freeways to 26 lanes in one area but still encountered traffic jams.
"What we're looking for is to better manage the flow on the freeways," he said, "It's just a matter of eking out more capacity for the same level of investment. That is the real point here."
There have been HOV lanes along U.S. 95 for a number of years, but Illia says Project Neon has just connected those lanes with new ones along I-15, making it easier for people to use them -- which, he believes, means more people will use them.
"I think what we had lacked up until just this morning was a continuous system," he said. "Previously, if you were in an HOV lane, in order to make a connection between 95 and I-15 or vice versa, you would have to jump out of the HOV lanes into general traffic, pass through the interchange and then jump back in."
Now, there is an HOV flyover from U.S. 95 to I-15.
Illia said cars with two or more people, motorcycles, buses and emergency vehicles can all use the lanes, which stretch 20 miles from Silverado Ranch Boulevard thru Spaghetti Bowl.
One of the biggest complaints about HOV lanes is people using them who don't have another person in the car.
"There will be a 30-day educational period starting today where they will be pulling people over, notifying them of the new rules... and after that period of time, the violators will face a $250 fine," Illia explained.
Illia also pointed out that the lane rules will now be enforced 24 hours a day, because Las Vegas is a uniquely 24-hour town.
Tony Illia, spokesperson, Nevada Department of Transportation; David Swallow, senior engineer, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada