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US 95 Vegas to Blythe, Part 1: Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Expwy (US 95 Fwy, ClarkCo 215, I-215, I-515)

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Our trip starts with modern US 95 just north of Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, US 95 is one of the major arterials feeding the city, along with I-15. US 93, the other major arterial on paper, actually has only minor relevance as a highway in its own right within Vegas city limits, since locally it only exists co-signed either with US 95 (over what is presently also co-signed as Interstate 515) south towards Henderson and Boulder City, or I-15 leaving the city to the northeast. East of Boulder City, US 93 represents the major gateway of the city to I-40 and Phoenix and carries significant traffic volumes east which makes it ripe for eventual upgrade to Interstate standards and subsequent truncation south of its merge with I-15 (present day I-15 exit 64). However, this plan has a very large physical obstacle blocking this plan which we will look at as a detour in Part 2.

Las Vegas (Spanish for "the meadows") is the largest city in Nevada, with a population of 552,539 [2006]. Tens of millions visit its tourist attractions annually; conventions and meeting areas are a significant proportion of this business as well (love those business junkets). For this reason, it shouldn't be surprising that even in 2000 there were 124,270 hotel/motel rooms according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and there's been plenty of construction since then. Combined with North Las Vegas and Henderson, the Vegas metropolitan area alone contains almost forty percent of the population of the entire state (1,777,539 [2006]). It is the county seat of Clark county, which is itself the most populous county in Nevada.

There's also that gambling thing too, which may have something to do with its popularity as well. With the legalization of gambling in Nevada in 1931, Las Vegas eclipsed the nearby mining towns in preeminence as the strikes dried up -- the presence of free-flowing liquor, plus legal prostitution in nearby counties, can't have hurt either. No wonder they call it Sin City.

Modern US 95 is freeway throughout the entire city limits of Las Vegas, well into Henderson. Its first incarnation was as the Las Vegas Expwy, which is now incorporated into the US 95 freeway, and ended more or less at what is now the intersection of Bonanza Rd and Rancho Dr (later renamed as the Oran K. Gragson Expwy) to which US 95 was transferred.

US 95 between I-15 and just northwest of the US 95/US 93 split is also signed as Interstate 515. Interstate 515 was first on the books as early as 1976 but was not signed in the field until 1991, when the US 95/US 93 freeway had additional upgrades to allow it to completely bypass Henderson. The new shield was then added to all portions of the route which were Interstate standard, which we will fully document. Nevertheless, it does not appear that I-515 will ever replace US 95 as the primary marked through route (despite talk of it possibly being extended to Phoenix to replace US 93) because of US 95's significance as a highway arterial to California and Arizona. This is betrayed by the fact that Nevada postmiles still mark the freeway as US 95, an oversight which can only be considered intentional, and there are no green MUTCD mileposts as there are on other Nevada Interstate freeways. Moreover, I-515 does not extend northwest past the I-15 junction.

We start our US 95 tour at the Snow Mountain exit. Why here? Well, it's north of Las Vegas and therefore north of the split into its old and new alignments, and ... it's exit 95. It's also an appropriate place to begin since Nevada, in Spanish, means "snowcapped."

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Many of Las Vegas' bridges are extremely ornately designed. This one is typical, but in a rather arresting shade of pink.

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First US 95 shield along our course.

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The terrain out this way is very arid and unforgiving.

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PM 95.0 on a typical Nevada postmile, very similar to California's, where CL = Clark County. Established 5 February 1908, Clark county honours former Montana senator William A. Clark, who built the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. More about that in Part 2.

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Distance signage, although we won't be traveling far to the actual northern city limits.

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Turnoff for NV 157 to Mount Charleston.

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Exit, oddly not numbered. NV 157 heads west to the beautiful Mt Charleston park, where it forms the southernmost leg of a quasi-loop route formed by NV routes 156, 157 and 158 (156 -> 158 -> 157). The NV 156 junction is further north than our travelogue here starts.

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Vegas city limits and more or less the official beginning of the US 95 freeway.

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First exit (Exit 93, Durango Drive).

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Exit 91, Centennial Pkwy. But not from the NB direction ...

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Detour: ClarkCo 215/Woodbury Belt

In the NB direction, the exit is for Clark County Highway 215, the future I-215 beltway which is only partially constructed in the present date and which we will intersect later on in the photoessay. The greenplating on the exit sign covers up the old exit legend. We'll look at some of the unique features of this freeway-in-gestation in this detour.

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Separation. We'll head west for an initial survey.

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WB ClarkCo 215 with advance signage in the background. Although the exit is at a traffic light, this section rapidly upgrades to freeway.

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Bruce Woodbury Beltway signage and milemarkers, with ClarkCo shields on the mileposts. The Beltway is named for Bruce L. Woodbury, presently a Clark County Commissioner who was first appointed in 1981 and subsequently re-elected. Here is his county official page.

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Exit 37, Durango Drive again. Durango runs parallel to US 95, so we'll actually use it as a point of comparison between exits.

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Some of the interchange work at Durango Drive as we turn around and head EB. Note that there are no Freeway Entrance banners on the assemblies.

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On the eastbound view, now east of US 95, we can see both carriageways for the future I-215 of which only one is in operation as ClarkCo 215. Nevertheless, many of the crossings have been converted to grade separation already.

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Distance signage and another mile marker. Note that the distance signage isn't to just exits, as in the case of Jones Blvd, ...

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... which is just a traffic light.

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Some other odds and ends: here is I-215 (signed as INTERSTATE LOOP 215) and ClarkCo 215 where they meet along I-15 to the south.

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At this interchange, ClarkCo 215 has Freeway Entrance banners on the assemblies.

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This is also seen on other exits along the westernmost portion of the loop. Compare with the Durango Drive onramps above.

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Junction I-15 at the northeastern edge of town.

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End ClarkCo 215 on the same gantry.

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Exit for ClarkCo 215 from I-15. We head back to where we left off on US 95.

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End Detour

Exit for Exit 90, Ann Rd and BR 95/Rancho Drive. We'll come back to this for Part 2. At this point, old US 95 splits off and we continue on the Gragson Expwy/historic Las Vegas Expwy.

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Advance signage.

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SB US 95.

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Advance signage for Exit 81, Summerlin Pkwy. This freeway leads west into the planned community of Summerlin. Like ClarkCo 215, it has a few unique features worth investigating, so we'll take another brief detour.

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Detour: Summerlin Parkway

Separation. This exchange is christened the Teriyaki Bowl (we'll see another larger Bowl momentarily).

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Summerlin Pkwy is, despite the name, full freeway for much of its length. It bears no route number and is maintained by the City of Las Vegas, not NDOT.

The name Summerlin comes from its builder, the Howard Hughes Corporation (now part of General Growth Properties) and is fully planned and zoned based on Hughes' original 25,000-acre purchase in the 1950s. Originally considered worthless land, construction on the community did not until 1990; despite its apparently atomic nature, it is not a municipality in its own right and is partially City of Las Vegas (southern end) and partially unincorporated (north). Summerlin was the surname of Hughes' grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin.

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Durango Drive again, but Summerlin Pkwy does not use exit numbers, which is noteworthy.

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End Detour

Back on US 95 and the Gragson Expwy into downtown.

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The old Las Vegas Expwy name still persisted for some period, however, including this overhead signage at the Jones Blvd exit (NB offramp) which is now gone.

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Continuing south, past Rancho Dr. Although signed as BR 95 here as well, this section of Rancho Dr south of Bonanza Rd is not part of old US 95. We'll see the junction a bit later, but for now, the old Gragson Expwy ended roughly here.

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Advance signage for the "Spaghetti Bowl" I-15/US 95/US 93 interchange and first signage for I-515. The freeway signers really couldn't make up their mind which was supposed to be the putative master route, and while I-515 usually gets top billing because it's an Interstate (even though it's also just a menial spur mooching off a US highway's alignment), they can't decide if it should be US 95 first or US 93. As signs get replaced, however, US 93 seems to have won out.

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Old style green non-retroflective signage on the NB side just north of the Spaghetti Bowl. Although I have never seen button copy on Nevada freeways, even on old signage, I have seen it along former US 91/NV 604 (there is still a sign "Downtown" with button copy on the northbound portion).

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Exit for I-15 south (note how its control city is Los Angeles, although it never actually gets there). The ramps of the "Spaghetti Bowl" are now visible. This ramp is under heavy construction currently, so I have used an older and clearer 2005 picture.

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The modern Spaghetti Bowl, so named because of its multiple small curving ramps, replaced the original I-15/US 95/US 93 interchange in stepwise fashion during the late 1990s to be finally completed by March 2000 and opened in grand fashion by a full ribbon cutting hosted by governor Kenny Guinn.

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Begin Interstate 515

Passing under the bridges with advance signage for the first I-515 exit.

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The Spaghetti Bowl has some famous inhabitants, namely the tortoises. These sculptures had just arrived mere weeks before my initial driving through in 2005 and were being worked into the landscape. Each of the two desert tortoise sculptures weighs a hernia-inducing five tons and cost $35,000, a drop in the bucket of the $3 million landscaping project for the interchange at large. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal so aptly put it in their 3 July 2005 issue, "Spaghetti Bowl traffic moves about as fast as a desert tortoise, so why not have a couple adorning the interchange?"

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First I-515 shield and advance signage for Exit 75B, Casino Centre Blvd, the first exit to downtown Las Vegas and old US 91 (what became NV 604, but is now relinquished over this particular alignment). We'll look more at this in Part 2 as well.

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Northbound view of the "Bowl." The overhead signage for the US highways interestingly has the black borders of the MUTCD standard US route shield. Despite being accurate roadside signage, it is non-standard for overhead signs, and appears to actually be part of the sign rather than roadside shields pasted up on it as temporary service.

By the way, Tonopah traffic, stay in the middle lane. Aaaaall the way. That's right, because if you get in the left lane, you're going to Reno whether you like it or not. (Well, that's what the sign says!) Note that the connection to Reno is indirect, made via Interstate 80. For a look at Reno, see US 95's child route in US 395 Part 13.

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Exit 75B. I told you they couldn't make up their minds -- now US 95 is first. Note that the control city is given as Phoenix, possibly shades of I-515 taking over US 93's alignment one unspecified day in the future.

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Signage at the interchange. Now US 93 is first, but control cities for each one are shown.

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Looking on the NB onramp, we see signage for the Gragson, which we have now left.

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I-515/US 95/US 93 seems to run on an elevated alignment, probably on purpose for minimum environmental impact. As such, it looks down on most of the community it traverses and there isn't a whole lot of local scenery to be gawked at.

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I-515/US 95/US 93 is postmiled multiple places (including on this defaced one at Exit 72, Charleston Blvd) as US 95, using Nevada postmiles. Other Interstate routes signed with a US highway, such as I-580/US 395 in Reno, have IH designations (even the "secret" portion of I-580); the only conclusion I can draw, besides benign neglect, is that NDOT is using the old mile numbering for continuity over the same alignment. In the NDOT route report, this alignment is assigned to I-515.

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Advance signage for Exit 70, Boulder Hwy (NV 582), one of the two points at which new US 95 crosses old US 95. We'll come back to this point in Part 2 also.

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Exit 70.

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SB I-515/US 93/US 95.

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Entering Henderson. We'll see a little more of Henderson in Part 3.

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Ascending the grade, at Exit 64, Sunset Rd.

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Advance signage for I-215 (the other side of the Woodbury Beltway) and NV 564. NV 564 is the Lake Mead Parkway, which connects up to the western side of Lake Mead (appropriately named Las Vegas Bay). We'll see more of Lake Mead in an eentsy-weentsy detour we'll take in Part 3.

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Exit 61B, NV 564 Lake Mead Pkwy. This is actually the other side of I-215, which we'll see in a minute. We also have another one of those interesting bridges (the Auto Show Drive bridge), built 2005.

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Curving around to the main interchange.

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Exit 61A, I-215 west. In homage to the I-15/US 95/US 93 Spaghetti Bowl, this is the Henderson Spaghetti Bowl.

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Perspective of the Henderson Spaghetti Bowl from the very westernmost end of NV 564, showing it enter I-215 on the other side of I-515. The ramps aren't quite as complex as they are with I-15.

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Passing through the Henderson Spaghetti Bowl back on I-515/US 95/US 93.

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Some of this southernmost section is deeply recessed.

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Advance signage for the freeway's end near Railroad Junction.

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Exit 56, Wagonwheel Drive, the final exit SB.

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End freeway 1/2 mile.

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No trucks on Hoover Dam. There's a reason for this that we'll talk about in Part 3.

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END I-515.

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And, along the NB side, a complementary BEGIN shield.

Continue to Part 2

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