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New Arizona homes worry Boulder City

The prospect of 20,000 homes about 28 miles from Hoover Dam in Arizona and another 88,000 homes farther south has Boulder City preparing for an onslaught of traffic through the quiet community.

Even without the additional homes, Boulder City is already bracing for the 2008 opening of a bridge downstream from Hoover Dam that is expected to bring an additional 2,000 trucks a day through the city on U.S. 93.

"It is going to be a major shock," Boulder City Mayor Bob Ferraro said about the Rhodes Homes residential development that includes the 108,000 homes. "The traffic congestion is going to be quite bad because the people in those communities who work in Las Vegas will have to come through Boulder City."

A planned 10-mile freeway bypassing the city is not expected to be completed for at least two decades because of funding issues, according to Kent Cooper, assistant director of the state Transportation Department.

Ferraro has called for the bypass to be built as a toll road, arguing that tolls would pay for construction costs.

Transportation officials, however, say that at least initially, there will not be enough traffic to support a toll road. During the bridge's early years, it is expected to handle about 8,000 vehicles daily. To support a toll road, it would take at least several times that amount of traffic, officials say.

"We are keeping our options open," Cooper said. "Things could change if we see spikes in traffic."

Boulder City officials are worried that the planned communities in Arizona will substantially increase the new bridge's traffic.

Last month the Mohave County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors gave Rhodes Homes tentative approval to build The Villages at White Hills, a project that the developer touts as affordable rural housing for commuters to the Las Vegas Valley. With 20,042 homes, the project -- for which there currently is no timetable -- would create about three times more homes than the roughly 7,500 now in Boulder City, which has a population of 15,000.

The Board of Supervisors also approved 88,780 homes in three separate projects near Kingman, about 80 miles from Boulder City.

To some Boulder City residents, that portends a traffic-jammed future.

Cooper, though, said it is too soon to predict how the Mohave County developments will affect Boulder City.

"It is hard at least preliminarily to gauge what the impact will be," he said. "We are kind of guessing how the development will occur, but there are very real issues for Boulder City."

Boulder City Councilwoman Andrea Anderson blames Rhodes' officials for touting the development as an easy commute of 30 to 45 minutes to the Las Vegas Valley. That will not be the case until the bypass is completed, she said.

"I would like to see Rhodes get on the bandwagon to get the bypass in so residents don't get caught in a bottleneck," Anderson said.

Rhodes spokesman Bill Marion said the developer is willing to meet with Boulder City officials.

"We would love to be involved and are interested in working with them on their concerns," Marion said.

Those concerns are exacerbated by the Hoover Dam bypass bridge.

After the bridge is built, traffic from Arizona will cruise over the Colorado River, miss the windy road that leads from Hoover Dam and connect to U.S. 93 near the Hacienda hotel. Traffic then would go through Boulder City.

City officials support a plan that would take traffic south of Boulder City, joining U.S. 93 west of the city near the Railroad Pass hotel.

The problem is funding. The Boulder City bypass proposal, which would cost $300 million, is supposed to follow a $160 million widening of a three-mile section of U.S. 93 between Henderson and Boulder City. That project, which involves a stretch of roadway that handles about 40,000 vehicles a day, is expected to start in 2009, with the Boulder City bypass not beginning until 2025.

But only $42 million in federal funds has been designated for the two projects.

Ferraro said the state does not have any extra money for the project, and the Regional Transportation Commission has several other commitments. A toll road "may be the only course," he said.

There is a glimmer of hope, however, for money to fund construction.

The federal government gave state officials permission to start design work for the Boulder City bypass. Normally, design work does not begin until funds are available for construction. That, Cooper said, puts the bypass in a better position to secure federal funds ahead of other projects.

In the meantime, Boulder City and the RTC have conducted a study looking at improving traffic safety. The report, which will be presented to the City Council in the next two months, will look at widening U.S. 93 through Boulder City, adding traffic signals and other improvements.

Boulder City Public Works Director Scott Hansen said the council is unlikely to widen the roadway because it would increase speeds through town.

Another option, Ferraro said, is building overpasses for local traffic over U.S. 93 to help residents avoid tie-ups.