The extreme late nights and excessive drinking may make you question some of your decisions after a weekend in Las Vegas. But for us, there’s one decision that is truly the most regrettable: the decision to drive back to L.A. from Vegas on a Sunday or Monday morning.
The traffic jam on the 15 freeway out of Las Vegas can be an unmitigated nightmare, the kind of traffic jam that makes you wonder if you should dare try to drive on a parallel dirt road and if your car can handle it (no and no). That’s because in the past, near the border town of Primm, three lanes of southbound freeway narrowed to two, causing hours-long backups until it returned to three lanes a few miles south of the California-Nevada state line. But relief has finally arrived.
About a year after it was supposed to open, California has completed a part-time extra lane on the southbound 15 Freeway just south of the Nevada border. According to Caltrans, the shoulder will be open to drivers from 10am to 8pm on Sundays and Mondays from 27 August. Coupled with the permanent addition of a third lane to the north, this effectively eliminates the two-lane bottleneck on this notoriously congested stretch of the freeway (which, make no mistake, will probably continue to see some pretty terrible traffic).
The joint state initiative was first announced in December 2021, with work set to begin in the spring of 2022 and be completed by the end of that summer. That timetable didn’t quite pan out, although in 2022 Nevada did add a permanent third lane along the half-mile stretch between the Primm exit and the state line. In the same year, California did the same for a one-mile stretch just south of the border.
Now, with the shoulder of that remaining 4.5-mile gap converted to a part-time lane, the southbound 15 will have an uninterrupted stretch of at least three lanes from Las Vegas to about 15 miles south of the state line. (Hopefully Mountain Pass, where the freeway will eventually revert to two lanes, won’t just push the Primm bottleneck further down the road).
Of course, this won’t solve the traffic problem on its own. Back in 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom noted that this was ‘only a temporary fix’, while then-Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said they still needed to work towards a permanent solution to accommodate the 11 million annual car visitors to Las Vegas. (The concept of induced demand predicts that more cars will simply fill those extra lanes and create more traffic).
Fortunately, there is a potential alternative on the horizon: Brightline West’s high-speed rail proposal between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga recently received federal environmental approval and is aiming to break ground by the end of this year.