People will drive a lot this Memorial Day. 212-thousand Nevadans will hit the road according to triple A. Meanwhile another 130-thousand will drive into Las Vegas - 20 thousand more drivers than usual. Traffic arteries will be clogged from Hoover Dam where 20- thousand cars will cross daily and wait times could reach 2 hours. On the strip county officials are making special arrangements to keep every possible lane open. As KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports, that means the most critical sewer repair in the city's history will be put on hold.
SOUND: Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard
PLASKON: Memorial Day puts Las Vegas as an economic engine into high-gear, the heart of the engine is the Las Vegas Strip. The three day weekend is expected to generate 181 million dollars in non-gaming tourism. It's 15 million dollars more than last year, mainly because there are more hotel rooms on the strip according to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. In the left hand lane on Tropicana Avenue and the Las Vegas Strip, Marty Flynn, of the county's Reclamation District looks down into an open manhole and sees the result of the tourists in those hotel rooms.
FLYNN: That is raw sewage absolutely.
PLASKON: He knows how much sewage tourists are generating for just this one pipe: 15 million gallons a day. Last year one of these pipes behind Treasure Island collapsed and the street along with it, exposing tourists to a torrent of their own raw sewage. It wasn't the first time, so the county decided to explore this less than appealing side of Las Vegas says Flynn.
FLYNN: We found that we have about 52 miles of unlined concrete pipe, mostly installed in the 1970's.
PLASKON: This unlined pipe, buried below major traffic arteries had been eaten away by the noxious fluid. Repairing it requires various degrees of inconvenience.
PLASKON: These workers have shut down one lane of traffic on Tropicana Avenue to install sewage bypass lines. They'll pump the fluid out of a manhole, along the street the length of a football field and dump it back into the underground conduits downstream. While it's dry this pipe is in good enough shape to be re-lined with new material, meaning the work will be fast and cheap Flynn says.
FLYNN: We did an analysis and it is 1 trench the cost of when you have a major repair like we did last year.
PLASKON: The re-lining is expected to double the life of the sewer lines. While it's cheaper to re-line the pipes and the work can be done in 24 hours, there are also areas that are in need of major repair.
FLYNN: We found one piece, 200 feet in one segment on Saharah and one on Tropicanna that is going to require extensive work.
PLASKON: They'll have to close down several lanes of traffic for months, divert sewage and dig out old pipes. The work on these sewer pipes will be stopped during Memorial Day weekend to keep traffic flowing then its back to the dirty work and traffic clogs says Flynn.
FLYNN: No one wants this but this work is necessary no matter how uncomfortable it is for us as commuters.
PLASKON: Flynn says this is the largest scale sewer project the county has ever undergone so it's held meetings with business owners along the 52 miles of sewer lines in need of repair and for the first time sent out thousands of letters to residents to warn them about traffic inconveniences.
FLYNN: All of us hate being stuck in traffic, all of us hate the sight of barricades but if you know what the work is and you know how long it will take it is a little more acceptable.
PLASKON: He says, when contacted at first residents were angry about the inconvenience of the roadwork, then grateful for the warning. 95 percent of residents who responded to the county's surveys said mailings were helpful. Only 34 percent said they would rely on the media for this type of information.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9, KNPR
Clark County Water Reclamation District web site: www.cleanwaterteam.com