Nevada road network.
Nevada has a very thin road network, with only 2 through highways. Interstate 80 runs for 660 kilometers in the north of the state, and Interstate 15 in the south of the state for 200 kilometers. There is no highway between the two largest centers; Las Vegas and Reno, but the 720-mile route is on US 95, which is part highway in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
Characteristic of many roads in Nevada are the enormous distances through sparsely populated or uninhabited areas. Traveling in Nevada takes a lot of time. A classic fallacy is estimating distances to the next mountain ridge. In Nevada, many mountain ranges lie north-south, and the east-west routes intersect them. The traveler sees a mountain range in the distance, but often underestimates how long it takes to reach that mountain range. This is because there are few reference points in the empty open landscape. A mountain range that appears to be 20 kilometers away is often in reality more than 50 kilometers away.
The mountain ranges and relatively high elevation of much of Nevada make high winds and snowfall a significant impediment to winter and summer traffic. In late summer there are occasional heavy rain showers, often the remnants of tropical cyclones. In the otherwise dry desert, this can lead to sudden ‘flash floods’, which can damage infrastructure.
- Bittranslators: State overview of Nevada, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Nevada.
Nevada’s highway network is administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation, or NDOT. It was created in 1917 as the Nevada Department of Highways, as a requirement of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, in order to qualify for federal funding, states had to establish their own agency for roads and transportation.
The Nevada Department of Transportation manages approximately 8,700 miles of road and more than 1,000 bridges, most of which are quite small since Nevada has no major rivers. The largest piece of art in Nevada is the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge at the Hoover Dam on the Arizona border. This large arch bridge opened to traffic in 2010 and spans the canyon of the Colorado River. Nevada has the fewest bridges in bad condition in the United States.
- Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Nevada as The Silver State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.
The network of Interstate Highways in Nevada is thin. The major Interstates for through traffic are Interstate 15 through the south and Interstate 80 through the north of the state, with I-80 being by far the longest Interstate Highway. In addition, there are some auxiliary routes, the Interstate 215 as a bypass of Las Vegas, the Interstate 515 through Las Vegas and the Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City.
Construction of the Nevada highway system began in the late 1950s, and the first freeway stretches opened in 1960, a stretch of I-15 from the California border. to Sloan, and a stretch of I-80 between Sparks and Fernley. During the 1960s, the parts between the larger towns of both I-15 and I-80 opened. It was precisely the village passages that took longer, because these places depended on traffic for their existence. These included the larger cities of Las Vegas and Reno, as well as regional towns such as Mesquite, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Carlin, Elko, and Wells. The highway routes around these places were mostly opened in the 1970s. I-15 was the first to be completed when the last section opened in North Las Vegas in 1974. It was not until 1982 that the I-80 was completely passable in Nevada. After that, only shorter highways around Las Vegas and Reno have been opened. In 2018, I-11 was completed between Las Vegas and the Arizona border.
The US 50 between Austin and Eureka.
Traffic on the north-south routes through Nevada is dependent on U.S. Highways. US 93 forms a very long north-south route through the east of the state, passing through Las Vegas, Ely and Wells. This road is very light outside the Las Vegas region, but it is the only thoroughfare in eastern Nevada. US 95 connects Las Vegas and Reno, continuing on I-80 to Winnemucca and on to Oregon. US 95, however, does not reach the Reno region, but bypasses Reno well to the east via Fallon. US 395 is the north-south connection through the Carson City & Reno region, but its function has been partly taken over by I-580.
US 50 forms an east-west route through central Nevada. This one is known as The Loneliest Road in America. Although US 50 is a very quiet road, US 6 further south is even easier to drive. Before the completion of the Interstate Highways, there were two more major US Highways in Nevada, US 40, which has been replaced by I-80, and US 91, which has been replaced by I-15.
The Extraterrestrial Highway ( SR-375 ).
In Nevada it is referred to as a ‘state route’. There are three classes of state routes, the so-called primary routes with numbers from 0 to 499, urban routes with numbers from 500 to 699 and secondary routes with numbers from 700 to 895. Nevada’s road network is very thin, and the more important routes are US Highways and Interstate Highways. That’s why there are few state trails in Nevada that exceed 100 miles in length. The height of the number says little about its importance, for example, only two road numbers lower than 100 have been assigned, the SR-28 and SR-88 that connect to the same number in the state of California. In Nevada state route numbering, numbers are frequently skipped. The road numbers of the primary routes are grouped by region, often by county. The numbering of state routes was first established in 1917 and was renumbered in 1976. Since the 1990s, the urban routes have been phased out, because these roads should preferably be managed by the municipalities and counties.
The state routes in Nevada are relatively short and therefore almost always have a secondary character. Despite Nevada’s vast area, there are only 10 state trails longer than 100 miles, the longest of which is no more than 178 miles. In contrast, a large number of state routes are shorter than 30 kilometers. The shortest state route is the NV-426 in Reno which is only 0.6 kilometers long. 6 state routes are shorter than 3 kilometers.
Nevada has three road number classes for state routes;
- Primary routes: 1 to 499
- Urban routes: 500 to 699
- Secondary routes: 700 to 895
The primary routes and secondary routes form an integrated system. Primary routes are mainly numbered by county in alphabetical order. Churchill County, for example, has low numbers and White Pine County high numbers, but these routes can extend into neighboring counties. However, there are some exceptions. A small number of state routes have their number derived from the connecting state route in a neighboring state. State trails in Nevada are relatively short relative to the size of the state. Unlike other states, there are no state routes that run east-west or north-south throughout the state. This is partly because there is less grid in Nevada.
Until 1917, Nevada “roads” were developed by local governments. From 1917 this became a state matter with the creation of the Nevada Department of Highways. Right from 1917 there was a road numbering, but the state did not have any paved road at the time. This was due to the very low population in the state, Nevada had only 77,000 inhabitants in 1920. Transport by road has long been difficult due to the enormous distances, few facilities outside the main towns and the barely developed road network. In the 1920s, some long-distance roads were developed as an ‘oiled road’, which is an oil layer over the gravel road, making the road dust-free. Such a road surface is not very comfortable and has little bearing capacity.
1920s: The first paved roads
In the late 1920s, Nevada had only one fully-fledged paved road, part of what became US 395 from 1934 between Carson City, Reno, and the California border. At the time, Reno was by far the largest city in Nevada, having about 5 times the population of Las Vegas and Carson City. In 1929 some long-distance routes had been developed as ‘oiled road’, such as US 40 from Reno via Winnemucca to the border with Utah (now I-80), the largest part of US 50 between Reno and Ely, US 91 (now I-15) through the south of the state and parts of US 95 between Las Vegas and Carson City, mainly the northern half from Tonopah. Also, part of what would later become US 93 south of Ely was provided with an oil layer.
1930s: Expansion of the paved roads
In the early 1930s, the road network was further provided with an oil layer to make it dust-free, after which it was later switched to asphalt pavement in the 1930s. In the mid 1930s US 40 – part of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway – fully asphalted. In the 1930s, the focus was mainly on the roads that later became US Highways, or were replaced by Interstate Highways. Outside the main thoroughfares there were almost only dirt roads, only part of the secondary road network had gravel by the end of the 1930s. The greatest concentration of paved roads in 1939 was in the wider Reno-Carson City region and southern Nevada, in the Las Vegas region. Elsewhere, the US Highways were the only paved roads for miles around. At the time, US 6 was the only US Highway in Nevada that had a partially gravel surface, between Tonopah and Ely. At the border with Utah US 6 was even a dirt road.
An important landmark of Nevada is the Hoover Dam, built between 1931 and 1936. This large dam on the Colorado River is located on the border with the state of Arizona and allowed a connection to that state. US 93 was built specifically for the construction of the dam, before 1931 there was no paved road in this region. Before the road over the dam was completed, there was no road connection between Nevada and Arizona, one had to make a detour via California. However, Las Vegas had only 5,100 residents in 1930, so traffic demand was also low.
1940s: The Second World War and Slow Development
During World War II, spending on roads was an absolute minimum. The level of maintenance deteriorated, but Nevada had an advantage over states east of the Rocky Mountains in low rainfall and low maintenance roads. In 1940, Reno was the largest city with 21,000 inhabitants, Nevada had just passed the 100,000 inhabitants mark and given the little agriculture, the expansion of the road network was not very urgent at that time. In the second half of the 1940s, the first state highways were asphalted. At the time, this mainly happened in the Reno and Carson City region. Outside that region there were only a few asphalted state highways in 1949, the longest asphalted state highway at the time was the road from Luning to Middlegate (now NV-361).
1950s: Development of the state highways
The US 6 between Tonopah and Ely.
From the 1950s onwards, the state highways were asphalted on a larger scale, and in the mid-1950s a significant part of the state highways in the countryside was asphalted. This was inconvenient due to the great distances from villages, workers could not drive home in the evening and come back to work the next morning. However, one area was not developed at the time, a large triangle between Las Vegas, Tonopah and Ely in southern Nevada. Here lies the ‘Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range’, also known as ‘Area 51’. In 1955, there were no paved roads in this vast area between US 6, US 93, and US 95. State highways that were not yet paved often had no signage or road furniture. Driving on these roads was especially challenging at night.
In 1956 the Interstate Highway system was created. For Nevada, that meant I-15 through the Las Vegas area and I-80 as a long-haul route from Reno through Winnemucca to the Utah border. The I-15 would replace US 91, I-80 would replace US 40. In 1960, the first sections of these Interstate Highways opened, two sections of I-15 between the California border and Sloan and in the desert north of Las Vegas, as well as a section of I-80 east of Reno.
1960s: Construction of the Interstate Highways
Nevada had a population of 285,000 in 1960, of which 64,000 lived in Las Vegas and 54,000 in Reno. The amount of traffic on the roads in Nevada was still small, although traffic from California to Reno and Las Vegas in particular increased. These are also the first sections of I-15 and I-80 to be constructed. In the early 1960s, construction was mainly focused on converting US 40 and US 91 outside the cities. Here and there the first freeway sections appeared, often not much more than 20 kilometers long. Little by little the Interstate Highways got longer. The construction of I-80 through northern Nevada was especially difficult, with large stretches of the route passing through very remote areas, far from the nearest towns.
By 1965, I-15 was substantially ready, with short stretches still missing in Las Vegas and Mesquite. I-80 had been completed in a more fragmented manner, with long stretches of two-lane US 40 remaining between the freeway segments. In the second half of the 1960s, however, new routes were completed at a rapid pace. At that time, US 395 in Nevada was also widened to 2×2 lanes, but this was not yet a freeway.
The asphalting of the state highways was less of a priority in the 1960s. Many villages in the desert were lost to inhabitants, and especially northwest Nevada was a large area with virtually no paved roads. In the latter half of the 1960s, a fairly long stretch of US 95 in the Las Vegas area was widened to 2×2 lanes.
1970s: Completion of the Interstate Highways & Renumbering
In 1970, Nevada had a population of 489,000, an increase of over 200,000 from 1960. Las Vegas, in particular, became dominant during this period, being the first city in the state to exceed the 100,000 mark and had a population of 126,000 in 1970. Reno had 73,000 inhabitants. Both cities still had a missing section of I-15 and I-80, which meant that traffic still had to cross the street network. Both missing parts were opened around 1974. At the same time, the last missing section of I-15 on the Arizona border also opened, completing I-15 through Nevada.
I-80 had eight missing links in 1975, most of them around the small regional towns, because activity in places like Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Carlin, Elko and Wells was still heavily dependent on passers-by on I-80 / US 40. These missing sections would not open until the early 1980s, in 1982.
In 1976 the network of state routes was completely renumbered. The road numbers were randomly assigned in 1917, without a well thought-out system. Also, there were several state routes with a suffix. With the 1976 renumbering, most one- and two-digit state routes were dropped. Only NV-28 and NV-88 kept their pre-1976 numbers. Some of the state routes disappeared completely as road in the state administration. Various route numbers that were assigned ran on roads that were not under state control, often these were dirt roads to ghost towns that were still relevant in the early 20th century, but no longer in the 1970s.
1980s: Growth of the cities
Las Vegas Interstate 15.
Nevada had grown to 800,000 residents by 1980, of which 165,000 were in Las Vegas and 101,000 in Reno, marking the first time the state had two major cities with more than 100,000 residents. From then on, growth began to be disproportionate around Las Vegas. The state was able to take advantage of the rapidly rising housing prices in California and thus took on a spillover function, just like Arizona. In 1982, the last sections of Interstate 80, several diversions around small towns in the north of the state, opened.
The development of the network of state routes was slower. Outside the Las Vegas and Reno regions, many roads remained unpaved, partly because the status of state route had been revoked on several connections. Northwest Nevada, in particular, was notorious, with only two paved roads in a large area northwest of I-80. This area was extremely sparsely populated, so there was no need to asphalt the remaining gravel and dirt roads. No asphalt roads were built in the region around ‘Area 51’ in southern Nevada.
In the second half of the 1980s, work was underway on the construction of US 395 (later I-580) through Reno as a freeway. By 1989, the northernmost few miles to I-80 in Reno had been completed. At the same time, the US 95 was completed as a freeway in Las Vegas. In a short time, almost the entire urban section was constructed from Henderson to beyond Las Vegas.
1990s: Explosive population growth
Las Vegas was bursting at the seams in the 1990s. Most of I-15 still had only 2×2 lanes, but Clark County already had a population of 741,000, about 60% of all Nevada residents. To accommodate the explosive population growth, I-15 has been widened through Las Vegas, largely to 2×3 lanes in the north and 2×4 lanes in the center and south of Las Vegas. The US 395 freeway in Reno was also extended southwards in phases towards Carson City, a slow process. In the late 1990s, the first section of Interstate 215 was completed, which was to form the Las Vegas ring road. Between 1990 and 2000, Clark County grew from 741,000 to 1,376,000 residents, a growth of more than 600,000 people, increasing pressure to expand the road network.
The focus after 2000 was on the completion of I-215 around Las Vegas. About 2002 the southeastern section between US 93/95 and I-15 was completed. In the following years, the ring road was further completed in phases. Often the main carriageways at the junctions were constructed last, so that traffic still had to pass through traffic lights for a long time. The last part of the southwest ring was completed in 2010. I-215 has largely been constructed with a space reservation for later widening to 2×4 or 2×5 lanes. The economic recession from 2008 hit Las Vegas hard, with the city’s foreclosure rate being one of the highest in the United States. After 2012, the economy recovered and various new road projects were started. In 2018 Interstate 11. came from Las Vegas to the Arizona border. The Las Vegas North Ring will be completed in 2020.
There are no toll roads in Nevada, there never have been.
The busiest point in Nevada is I-15 at Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas, which has 260,000 vehicles per day. On large parts of US Highways and state highways outside the larger towns, fewer than 1,000 vehicles per day, sometimes less than 300 vehicles per day on US Highways.
Congestion in Nevada mainly occurs in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. It can get stuck on I-15 in particular. The agglomeration has one of the worst ratios between lane kilometers on highways and the population. However, Las Vegas has a 24-hour economy, which means traffic is more spread out throughout the day. Even at night it can sometimes be relatively busy, although traffic jams are rarer. There is less congestion around Reno. Elsewhere in Nevada, traffic volumes are often very low.