By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
The paint was still wet on the onramp safety rails as a crowd gathered Thursday morning for the ceremonious opening of the new Exit 118 interchange of Interstate 15 at the south end of Mesquite.
The audience was packed with city officials, elected leaders, business owners and managers as well as Mesquite residents who were happy to see the $20 million construction project completed and a new era for local commerce begin.
The fact that the temperature had soared well above 100 degrees by 9:00 am that day did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd.
“This project is truly a sight to behold!” exclaimed Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman. “It will be a landmark in Mesquite for decades to come.”
The project, which features a diamond interchange and a 300-foot long four-lane bridge spanning Interstate 15, was begun around the beginning of the year. Meadow Valley Contractors project manager Jed Wheeler said that it had been a challenge to his crews to complete the interchange in the short time period allotted by their contract.
“It has been very hot and our crews have worked a lot of overtime,” Wheeler said. “We have never built a bridge like this in only seven months time. But we took up the challenge and we did it.”
One of the major undertakings in the project was the amount of earthwork needed, Wheeler said. Given the topography of the site, more than 200,000 cubic yards of material had to be moved from the west side of the freeway to the east side where it was needed. Trucking all of that dirt over city streets and along the Interstate back to the site would have caused significant traffic snarls and would have done unneccesary damage to roads and freeways, Wheeler explained. “So we jacked and bored a pipe underneath the freeway and transported the material through it so that we could save the roadways,” Wheeler said. “I think that NDOT and the City were both happy with that.”
Wheeler, who lives in Logandale, reported that his relationship with city officials had been positive and easy throughout the project, despite an age-old rivalry between the Bulldogs of Virgin Valley and the Moapa Valley Pirates. Playing on that rivalry, Wheeler said that he had joked with City of Mesquite staffer Travis Anderson during the construction. “I told him that somewhere in this project there is a Pirate that is cast into this bridge,” Wheeler said to laughter from the crowd. “Then he told me, in that case, that he was going to withhold all of our payment. So I am promising you right now, Travis, that there is no Pirate in there.”
Litman explained that the interchange was the result of a tremendous collaboration between state and local agencies. He gave credit to Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Mesquite) who was instrumental in securing funding for the project when he served in the Nevada State Legislature. He also credited Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) who, also as a State Legislator, had played a part in funding the project. Both Hardy and Kirkpatrick had sent representatives to the event.
Litman also thanked officials from the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Commission for their role in the success.
Also recognized in attendance was Assemblyman Chris Edwards, members of the Mesquite City Council and Mesquite Regional Business president George Gault.
Gault said that the new interchange would be a huge factor in attracting new business to Mesquite, which is at the halfway point on the trucking route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
“We have had contact with over 100 entities interested in Mesquite and we hope that number will continue to grow,” Gault said. “We are currently working with several other prospects that were anticipating the completion of this interchange.”
Gault said that he is looking forward to several new businesses that have already signed on to build near the new exit. He named the REV Group, which plans to break ground soon on a major travel plaza in the area. Other projects in the works for the area include the Eagles Landing Group and the Solstice Motorcoach Resort, Gault said.
“These are projects that have a lot of synergy,” Gault said, “having motorcoaches to be able to get off at this interchange to buy fuel, tires or go to the resort. It will become a destination.”
Perhaps most excited about the new interchange was Wendy Kinney, general manager for Do It Best Corp., a distributor of lumber, hardware and building products. The 500 square foot Do It Best distribution center is an anchor tenant of the Mesquite Technology and Commerce Center (MTCC) which will specifically benefit from the new interchange.
“As you can tell, we at Do It Best are absolutely thrilled by this interchange!” Kinney said. “We have been waiting ten years for this.”
Kinney explained that her Mesquite distribution center serves approximately 225 member stores in the southwest region including Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California and New Mexico.
“Over the course of a year, we have approximately 6,800 trucks either coming or going that will now be able to use an interchange designed with tractor trailers in mind,” Kinney said. “I think, if you are a community member here, you will appreciate that traffic being diverted to this intersection.”
In addition to boosting the Mesquite economic sector, the interchange also offers an esthetic benefit to the city. The attractive arched bridge will be the first one of its kind on the I-15 going through California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Montana, according to Wheeler.
Wheeler also pointed to the artwork included on the bridge which depicts the Virgin Mountain range on the east side and the desert mesas on the west side, with the Virgin River in the median.
“That took a lot of coordination to make that happen and it makes it a beautiful gateway into the City of Mesquite from the south,” Wheeler said. “That was special.”
Litman pointed out that the project also included two bike lanes and a sidewalk which would connect to future trail sites through the area.
“There is something for everyone on this project,” Litman said.