Has the “Dropicana” project harmed UNLV commuters?

Traffic persists on the Tropicana near the I-15 intersection while project Dropicana is underway. Photo by Kaln Sipes.

The Tropicana Avenue to I-15 interchange, located right in the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, was built in the 1960s. Due to an increase in the valley’s population, there has been a rise in traffic along the streets and freeways.

The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) began the reconstruction of the Tropicana Avenue bridge in May 2022, dubbing the project “Dropicana.” This project, while it will be beneficial for traffic management in the future, has caused delays in the commutes of many UNLV students and faculty members. How exactly has this project been going, and how long will commutes to and from UNLV be affected by Dropicana?

“We saw the biggest impacts for drivers in January when the west side of the I-15 on Tropicana closed for construction,” reported Justin Hopkins, a public information officer at NDOT. “This March, drivers will start to see the rebuilding of the north half of the bridge to make it taller, wider, and increase car capacity. Drivers will start to notice finished work by the end of 2024.”

The project, which is scheduled to conclude in early 2025, will include a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) in which, according to NDOT’s official website, traffic would cross to the opposing side of the roadway guided by traffic signals. This allows vehicles to turn onto freeway ramps more efficiently, decreasing the possibility of congestion on the roadways.

According to Hopkins, Southern Nevada already has three DDIs and is usually used in less-traveled areas.

After the closure of the Tropicana Avenue bridge, many UNLV commuters have experienced longer travel times and increased traffic as more drivers find alternative routes around the bridge.

“It took me 40 minutes to get home because of how backed up the airport connector is all the time,” commented Ris Teng, a commuting student at UNLV. She noted that her commute before the closure took 20 minutes.

“Ever since Tropicana got closed, I haven’t been able to get through the connector without having to slow down and get stuck in congestion,” Teng said. She added that with more people finding routes to avoid the closed ramp, more people have taken to traveling on the Harry Reid Airport connector on the I-215.

Roads surrounding UNLV’s main campus and the Tropicana Avenue to I-15 intersection have also been witness to higher rates of traffic jams. According to a study done by Daniel Schefer, a researcher at the Israel Institute of Technology, fatal car accident rates increase when the density of traffic increases while a high rate of speed is maintained. The increased traffic along roadways more affected by the ramp closure has the potential of increasing car accidents, increasing congestion along these roadways further.

“There has been increased traffic due to the exit close,” stated William Doyle, a UNLV Honors College professor. “I like to have different options when commuting depending on which one is more efficient. My usual backup route is on Eastern to 215 or the connector.”

Continuing the conversation on commute changes, Doyle commented that his primary route to UNLV is going north on Las Vegas Boulevard and that he noticed increased traffic on that roadway as well.

In order to increase transparency with project progress, NDOT has developed a website where constituents can stay up-to-date on restrictions affecting their commutes. It has also created social media accounts on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, along with creating a mobile app, I15 Trop, so that users get instant alerts of any traffic updates.

Dropicana will continue to affect UNLV commuters until the project’s completion in 2025. As drivers navigate their way through the influx of traffic, they will need to remain aware of any possible changes to the routes to get to and from campus on time and most importantly, to travel safely.


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