September 12, 2014 9:00 AM, EDT

Nevada Hoping to Get I-15 Reopened This Weekend, But Not to All Trucks

Nevada DOT

Nevada officials said they hope to open one lane in each direction this weekend on Interstate 15, closed due to severe flood damage, but trucks still will be detoured.

Even if the lanes are opened, trucks going north will not be allowed to run on the temporarily repaired section of the critical freight corridor that tracks north from Southern California and Las Vegas into Utah, Idaho and Montana.

“And that will continue for a week or more, so, essentially, commercial vehicles traveling northbound will still be detouring via U.S. 93 for the immediate future until otherwise notified,” said Meg Ragonese, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Nearly 50 miles of I-15 has been closed since Sept. 8 when torrential rains caused a flash flood that buried part of the highway under mud and in another part washed out the roadbed.

At least 5,000 trucks a day, now forced onto narrow rural highways, run the I-15 stretch that comes from Las Vegas across a small corner of Arizona before heading north into Utah, said Kevin Kitchen, a regional spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.

“A lot of refrigerated freight, especially [running] from the bread basket of Southern California up toward the Mid-West and Northeast,” he said.

U.S. 93 is only a two-lane highway leading north from Las Vegas and to cross the Nevada-Utah state line now, trucks must also use two smaller highways, Nevada’s 319 and Utah’s 56, which lead to and from the I-15 intersection at Cedar City, Utah.

At one point this week, the backup in the area was 20 miles long, said Kitchen.

To help truckers cope with the emergency, when it heard of the I-15 closure, Utah lifted the ban against triple trailers on some of its smaller highways, Kitchen said.

And Utah sent “incident management” teams into Nevada to help truckers and police with traffic tie-ups around the small town of Panaca, Nevada, where large rigs coming off U.S. 93 have difficulty negotiating tight turns into rural highway intersections not designed for them, Kitchen said.

Dave Berry, vice president of Swift Transportation in Phoenix, said: “This is the wide open West, where there are few roads and no reasonable alternative routes. I-15 is a major trade and tourism corridor and until the road is repaired, truckers and motorists will face long delays and many extra miles as they take the detour,” he said.

Nevada officials said it could take months to restore the section of I-15 washed out by the flash flood.

In an effort to avoid the small highways around Cedar City now clogged with truck traffic, some carriers said they were routing their trucks in and out of Salt Lake City via U.S. 6, which feeds into U.S. 50 in Nevada.

That route across the Utah-Nevada state line is further north than Cedar City, but carriers said U.S. 50 was also becoming more crowded with traffic as the emergency went on.