More delays for Hoover Dam bypass road

LAS VEGAS - Concerns about newly discovered American Indian artifacts will delay the construction of a 3.5-mile Hoover Dam bypass road by at least five months.

An environmental impact statement that was supposed to be issued in September won't be ready until summer, said Jim Roller of the Federal Highway Administration's Denver office.

Federal highway officials must determine if the land to be paved is the ''traditional cultural property'' of any one of the 13 Colorado River-area tribes with roots in the region, according to Tom Greco of the Nevada Department of Transportation.

If officials determine the land is traditional property - a federal designation - they have to take further steps to minimize any damage that will result from the road.

Federal highway officials - who are in charge of writing the environmental report - plan to meet later this month with representatives of the tribes in a ''government-to-government'' fashion to decide how to proceed. After that will come a series of public hearings, Greco said.

Alice Baldrica, deputy historic preservation officer for Nevada, said it is vital for the government to do a thorough job now so it can avoid problems in the future.

''It's our duty here to make sure they go through the process,'' she said. ''If they don't take certain steps, then they leave themselves open to a challenge in court.''

The $198 million project will include a 1,900-foot-long bridge across the Colorado River. Traffic on U.S. Highway 93 now travels across the top of the dam.

Roller said talks have been under way since the 1960s to build a bypass around Hoover Dam, which accommodates more than 2 million visitors a year. U.S. 93 carries more than 20,000 vehicles a day over the dam, creating backups that can drag for miles.

U.S. 93 is the only artery connecting southwestern Nevada with northeastern Arizona. Roller said the highway has more than three times the accident rate of similar highways in Nevada.

A bypass would reroute through-traffic, that now must traverse the sharp curves near the dam at 15 mph, to a four-lane highway with a 60 mph speed limit.

The environmental impact statement, a draft version of which was issued last year, will evaluate four plans for solving the traffic problems - including a required ''no-build'' option.

Federal highway officials have recommended the road be built across Sugarloaf Mountain, just south of the dam. Roller said the Sugarloaf option is both the least expensive and least environmentally harmful of three proposed road designs that were evaluated.


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