The extreme late-nights and excessive booze may leave you second-guessing some of your choices after a weekend spent in Las Vegas. But for us, there’s one decision that’s truly the most regrettable: choosing to drive back from Vegas to L.A. on a Sunday or Monday morning.
The traffic backup on the 15 freeway leaving Las Vegas can be an unmitigated nightmare, the sort of jam that has you wondering whether you should dare attempt to drive on a parallel dirt road and if your car can even handle it (no and no). That’s because three southbound lanes of the freeway historically narrowed down to two near the border town of Primm, causing hours-long backups until it went back to three lanes a few miles south of the California-Nevada state line. But some relief has finally arrived.
About a year after it was initially supposed to open, California has finished a part-time extra lane on the southbound 15 freeway just south of the Nevada border. According to Caltrans, as of August 27, the shoulder will now be open to drivers on Sundays and Mondays from 10am to 8pm. Paired with some permanent third-lane additions just to the north, this now effectively eliminates the two-lane bottleneck on this notoriously backed up part of the freeway (which, make no mistake, will probably still 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 wrap up by the end of that summer. That timeline didn’t quite pan out, though in 2022 Nevada did add a permanent third lane along the half-mile stretch between the Primm exit and the state line. That same year, California did the same for a one-mile span just south of the border.
Now, with the conversion of the shoulder of this remaining 4.5-mile gap into a part-time lane, the southbound 15 will have an unbroken stretch of at least three lanes from Las Vegas to roughly 15 miles south of the state line. (Here’s hoping Mountain Pass, where the freeway does eventually go back down to two lanes, doesn’t just push the Primm bottleneck farther down the road.)
This, of course, still won’t singlehandedly fix traffic. Back in 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom noted that this was “just a temporary solution” while then-Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said they still needed to work toward a permanent way to accommodate the 11 million annual carbound visitors to Las Vegas. (The concept of induced demand predicts that more cars will simply fill up those extra lanes and create more traffic.) There is, thankfully, a potential alternative on the horizon: Brightline West’s proposal for high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga recently received federal environmental approval and is aiming to break ground by the end of this year.