LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Charleston Boulevard underpass ventures underneath a Union Pacific railroad in Downtown Las Vegas and once regularly saw severe floods. On Friday morning, the underpass flooded again, and work to make the stretch of road less flood-prone remains years away.
The stretch of Charleston Boulevard, between Commerce Street and Grand Central Parkway, is considered a critical connection between the Medical District to the west and the Arts District to the east. It was built nearly 70 years ago.
Fast-moving thunderstorms Friday morning submerged cars and forced the rescue of some drivers who attempted to drive through the water rather than go around it. However, Friday’s flooding paled compared to how the road used to handle heavy rains.
In October 2000, rainfall brought nearly 10 feet of flood water to the underpass. In the summer of 1999, floods were so severe that it was considered a disaster area.
The Regional Flood Control District (RFCD) says that since then, it has spent millions of dollars constructing detention basins and storm drains up and downstream. Additionally, 25 feet underneath the underpass were dug up to install concrete boxes to help the water flow underground.
In February 2020, then-executive director of Las Vegas Public Works, Mike Janssen, pitched an upgrade project to the city council. The then-council unanimously approved a $948,010 contract to analyze and design how to improve that stretch of the area most efficiently. Among other concerns was insufficient headway for certain large vehicles that could hit a fuel line along the structure.
The ideas were to lower Charleston, raise the Union Pacific railway, or realign that stretch of Charleston Boulevard. Janssen estimated the design element to take at least three years, with the total project cost ranging from $18 million to $35 million of the city’s gas tax allocations.
“It’s a very important project from an infrastructure perspective for Downtown,” Janssen said to the council during its February 5, 2020 meeting. “NDOT’s Project Neon did the short-term improvement that we needed, and so now we’re moving into the long term.”
The contract was approved roughly a month before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Las Vegas representatives could not provide an update on this project on Friday.
An RFCD representative confirmed to 8newsnow.com Friday that work is scheduled for the drainage system around the overpass but will likely not begin for another two years. Its Charleston-Maryland Storm Drain Project was recently completed between Boulder Highway and Maryland Parkway and is anticipated to begin on Maryland Parkway to Commerce Street in 2024 before reaching the underpass.
The representative added that “flood-proof” facilities are impossible to create, but reinforcement and upgrades can reduce flooding as much as possible. Replacement is planned for a small pipe under the underpass, which currently moves water to the storm drains, with multiple drop inlets when construction reaches it.