Routes for Shipments from the East

As shown in Figure 1, legal-weight truck shipments from the east (under the base case scenario) would enter Nevada on I-15 from Arizona near Mesquite, and travel southwest on I-15 to US 95 —accessing US 95 either at the new "Spaghetti Bowl" interchange or via a newly constructed bypass through the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas (this alternative is discussed in section 4). If shipments use the Spaghetti Bowl interchange, trucks would travel west along US 95, turning north and then northwest through the rapidly-developing northwestern urban area of the Las Vegas Valley. If they use the proposed bypass, trucks would travel west on the bypass (approximately at Elkhorn Avenue in the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas) to the intersection with US 95 northbound in northwest Las Vegas. Under either routing alternative, trucks would then travel northwest through Indian Springs and past the Mercury exit to the 2-lane portion of US 95 for the balance of the trip through Nye County. At the Lathrop Wells area of Amargosa Valley, trucks would turn right onto the access road to Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site, just past the junction of US 95 and NV 373.

Routes for Shipments from the South

Legal weight truck shipments from the south would enter Nevada on I-15 at Primm, traveling north to the Spaghetti Bowl, exiting to US 95 northbound along the same route as for shipments from the east. Return trips of legal weight trucks would reverse these routes, carrying empty casks to the next reactor site to load.

Ports of Entry for Legal-Weight Truck Shipments

Ports of entry would be required at each highway entrance to the state, near Mesquite and near Primm to ensure each shipment's compliance with state law. Also, escorts would be required fore and aft to accompany shipments from each port of entry to the interim storage site. NDOT would be responsible for design and construction of the ports of entry, while Nevada Highway Patrol would be responsible for staffing and maintaining the ports of entry, and for managing the escort process on behalf of the State.


Approaching Caliente from the East and South

Shipments by rail and heavy haul truck would involve considerably more complexity than shipments by legal weight trucks. As shown in Figure 2, shipments from both directions would be by the Union Pacific Railroad to Caliente: from the east, trains would travel from the Utah state line through Crestline to Caliente (about 39 miles); from the south, trains would travel from the California state line via Jean through Las Vegas to Caliente (about 167 miles). According to state agency representatives, development of ports of entry for rail shipments into the State is under discussion, but no cost estimates for this action are included in this report.

Intermodal Transfer and Heavy Haul for Early Rail Shipments

At Caliente, all shipments would be offloaded at the transfer facility described in proposed legislation, and loaded onto heavy haul trucks—with inspections by state and federal inspectors to ensure compliance with state and federal law and operating regulations. Although the specific design and configuration of the trucks that will carry either 75-ton or 125-ton (or some alternative design) casks to an interim storage facility cannot be described until a shipping campaign has been developed by USDOE and its contractors, past studies suggest some of the requirements for heavy haul of nuclear waste. Figures 3a-3d show two possible truck designs and associated turning radii that have been developed by a Las Vegas shipper. It is estimated that a heavy haul vehicle loaded with a large waste cask (125 tons) would weigh as much as 500,000 pounds, and that the vehicle would be about 14 feet wide and over 200 feet long.

Restrictions on Heavy-Haul Shipment and State Permitting

To allow a load of this size and weight on public highways requires certain operating considerations. First, there are certain highways that cannot accommodate this load at all. In other cases, highway segments have "frost restrictions" that prohibit overweight loads during the spring thaw (generally February 1 through April 30 each year) to avoid roadway damage. (Figure 4 shows the roads subject to these restrictions in 1996.) Finally, all overweight and over-dimension truck loads must obtain a state permit to travel on any highways within the state.

In Nevada, there are three categories of truck permitting: (1) legal weight trucks that weigh less than 80,000 pounds, and are less than 70 feet long; (2) over-dimension trucks that weigh more than 80,000 pounds and are between 70 and 105 feet long; and (3) "nonreducible load" trucks that are over 105 feet long. Clearly, heavy haul trucks carrying nuclear waste would fit in the last category. Permits for this category of truck require consideration of all operating conditions likely to be encountered along the route, and require an escort to protect both the over-dimension truck and the general public during the shipment. For nuclear waste shipments, escort vehicles will be required fore and aft of the truck and, as described below, at least one Nevada Highway Patrol escort will be required for in-route traffic control.

Potential Routes for Heavy Haul from Caliente

Figures 5 and 6 show the location of the proposed transfer facility in Caliente, as originally proposed in S.104. Out of Caliente, there are two primary routes for heavy haul travel to Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site:

    Around the Nellis Air Force Range: The first potential route would travel west along US 93 to Crystal Springs, then along Nevada 375 to Warm Springs in Nye County, then on US 6 to Tonopah, then south on US 95 through Goldfield and Beatty to the entrance to Area 25 near Amargosa Valley. This route would avoid major population centers, but would encounter other features that would make it problematic. The route includes ten summits or passes, requiring significant delays or infrastructure improvements to avoid travel delays. Also, NV 375 between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs, as well as US 6 from Warm Springs to near Tonopah, and US 95 from Tonopah through Esmeralda County (see segments numbered 1, 5 and 23 on Figure 4) currently are subject to frost restrictions, and would either be unavailable for transport during the restricted period, or would require significant pavement upgrades to allow overweight travel. In Tonopah, Goldfield and Beatty, there are also geometric constraints to heavy haul truck shipments, with sharp turns in each of these towns probably requiring the construction of bypasses to avoid significant travel delays and safety hazards.

    Through the Las Vegas Valley: The second potential route would travel west along US 93 to Crystal Springs, then would continue on US 93 south through Ash Springs, Alamo, and the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, out of Lincoln County into Clark County, and finally intersecting with I-15 northeast of the Apex industrial complex. From there, the route would proceed southwest on I-15 into the Las Vegas Valley, to the "Spaghetti Bowl" intersection with US 95. The route would require trucks to exit I-15 to US 95 northbound, then travel northwest out of the Las Vegas Valley, through Indian Springs out of Clark County into Nye County, reaching the access road to Area 25 just past the intersection of US 95 and Nevada 373 at the Lathrop Wells area of Amargosa Valley. While this route includes significant population centers, it avoids travel over eight of ten passes, and avoids the infrastructure and geometric constraints of the first route.(1)  Also, it complies with the requirements of HM 164, which require that truck shipments of hazardous materials use the national interstate highway system to the extent possible.

Heavy-Haul Route Assumption for this Assessment

Because the second alternative is the only route currently authorized under HM 164, and because the first alternative includes significant infrastructure, safety and geometric constraints, the second alternative was selected for the analysis contained in this report. The general effect of selecting the second alternative for analysis is to reduce the infrastructure cost projections required for state agencies to accommodate the nuclear waste shipment program. It is possible that both routes might be required to permit the schedule of shipments mandated in S.104, with loaded shipments using the second route and empty return shipments using the first route, at least in months not covered by frost restrictions. However, the analysis in this report is based on State of Nevada agency requirements associated only with the second route alternative (including the northern bypass option).

Particulars of the Heavy-Haul Route

A more detailed understanding of the selected route suggests specific agency actions required by the proposed nuclear waste shipment campaign:

  • Out of Caliente, trucks would travel up Newman Canyon, where the highway climbs from an altitude of 4,300 feet at Caliente to 6,200 feet at Oak Springs Summit, then descends to the Delamar and Pahroc Valleys, then climbs to Pahroc Summit Pass, and finally to Crystal Springs.

  • At the Crystal Springs intersection with Nevada Highway 375, loaded trucks would bear left, heading south through the towns of Ash Springs and Alamo, into the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. In this section of the route, the highway generally travels downhill over the 84 miles from Crystal Springs to the intersection with I-15.

  • After entering I-15 via a right turn from US 93, trucks would continue generally downhill past Apex, into the Las Vegas Valley and the Spaghetti Bowl to the exit onto US 95 northbound. Trucks would have to exit I-15 by a right turn onto the US 95 entrance ramp, then merge into the rightmost of three travel lanes heading west (and later northwest) on US 95.

  • For the next 55 miles, heavy haul trucks would travel on the limited access highway, first northwest out of the Las Vegas urban area, then west through Indian Springs toward the Mercury exit.

  • After the Mercury exit, US 95 becomes a two-lane highway, which it remains into and through the Lathrop Wells intersection with Nevada 373.

  • Just past this intersection, trucks would turn right onto an access road into Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site, to unload the rail casks at the interim storage facility at a location to be determined pursuant to S.104.

Infrastructure Problems Along the Heavy-Haul Route

    The problematic portions of the heavy-haul route include:

    The Ascent From Caliente: In the ascent out of Caliente, trucks weighing as much as a half million pounds would climb very slowly on the two-lane highway, causing substantial delays for following traffic which could not pass safely due to the length of the convoy consisting of the heavy haul truck and the accompanying escort cars. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation, there are 44 portions of US 93 between Caliente and Crystal Springs where the grade is greater than four percent, most of which are in the stretch between Caliente and Pahroc Summit. According to NDOT representatives, it would be critical to build climbing lanes in this segment of the route to permit traffic to pass the heavy haul vehicles carrying nuclear waste and the accompanying escort vehicles. (It should be noted that these infrastructure improvements would be required under either the first or second routing alternative out of Caliente.) It is expected that a typical 125-ton shipment would travel the 42 miles of this route segment at an average speed of 10-15 miles per hour, requiring a total of at least 3 hours.

    Turnouts Along US 93: US 93 is a two-lane highway for the entire 84-mile distance from Crystal Springs to I-15. Although the grade on this stretch of highway would not require passing lanes, NDOT representatives indicate that turnouts would be required at least every 25 miles to allow following traffic to pass the heavy haul convoys, and to allow the convoy to stop for exigencies. Also, a six-foot shoulder would be required along the two-lane highway (generally 22 feet-wide) to allow oncoming traffic to safely pass the heavy-haul truck, which may be up to 18 feet wide. It is expected that the 125-ton shipments over this stretch would travel at an average speed of 20-30 miles per hour (including four stops at turnouts), requiring about 3-4 hours to complete.

    The US 93/I-15 intersection: The intersection between US 93 and I-15 as currently configured provides an insufficient turning radius for heavy haul trucks more than 200 feet long entering or leaving the expressway for the loaded and unloaded (return) trips, respectively. Figure 7 shows an aerial photograph of this interchange, with the entrance from southbound US 93 onto southbound I-15 indicated as item 1 (for the loaded trip), and the exit from northbound I-15 to northbound US 93 indicated as item 2 (for the return trip) on the photo. To accommodate heavy haul and over-dimensioned trucks in this interchange, NDOT has indicated that new ramps would have to be built to increase the turning radius for both directions. It is expected that travel from this intersection to the Spaghetti Bowl interchange would be at an average speed of 35 miles per hour, requiring about 45 minutes to complete.

    Return Trips Through the Spaghetti Bowl: Figure 8 shows a scale model of the Spaghetti Bowl interchange between I-15 and US 95 in Las Vegas, as it will look when current improvements are completed. In infrastructure terms, the interchange would accommodate the weight of heavy haul shipments, and the exit from I-15 southbound onto US 95 northbound (indicated by a red line on the figure) would accommodate the dimensions of the heavy haul truck required to carry 125-ton rail casks. Thus, no infrastructure improvements are expected to be required here.

    However, the entrance from southbound US 95 onto northbound I-15 (indicated by a yellow line on the figure) would present special problems for the return trips, due to the smaller turning radius as the route passes under I-15. Preliminary analysis by the Nevada Department of Transportation indicates that this segment would prevent return trips of trucks carrying empty casks by trucks such as those shown in Figure 5. Therefore, NDOT has concluded that construction of a northern portion of the planned bypass through northern North Las Vegas would have to be accelerated and expanded to include additional travel lanes in order to allow heavy haul travel on I-15. If the northern bypass is built and used for transportation of empty casks, it would likely be used for the west-bound, loaded trips as well. This could reduce the overall trip by about 30 minutes.

    US 95 Northbound: Once heavy haul trucks have entered US 95 northbound, no serious operational problems are expected on the remaining route. The route includes limited access, four- or six-lane travel until the trucks reach the two-lane portion of the highway just west of Mercury. For the remainder of the route, according to NDOT, the highway has generally adequate sight distances(2) and sufficiently light traffic volume to allow passing by following traffic without construction of passing lanes or turnouts, and the grade would generally permit travel at the maximum speed of 35-40 mph over most stretches. Only minor infrastructure improvements are expected to be required for this segment.

    The Lathrop Wells Access Road: It is lielky that the access road from US-95 to Area 25 would have to be improved to accommodate both the high volume of legal weight trucks, and the increasing number of heavy haul trucks. However, the responsibility for this construction would be the federal government's entirely, with NDOT approval of the intersection with US 95 as a public access highway.


The construction of a bypass in the northern Las Vegas Valley, as described in Section 4, below, would avoid some population areas and some geometric constraints associated with the Spaghetti Bowl. This option has been described by NDOT as its preferred, if not required, alternative, and is used as the basis for estimating infrastructure costs. The "Spaghetti Bowl route" described in this section includes highways that either exist or are under construction.


A possible exception is at Point of Rocks, between Mercury and NV 160, which might cause minor delays for a short distance.

Figure 1.Routes for Legal-Weight Truck Shipments of Nuclear Waste to NTS Area 25
Figure 2.Routes for Rail and Heavy-Haul Truck Shipments of Nuclear Waste to NTS Area 25
Figure 3a.Possible Configuration of Heavy-Haul Truck (170-Foot configuration)
Figure 3b.Possible Configuration of Heavy-Haul Truck (206-Foot Configuration)
Figure 3c.Turning Radius of Heavy-Haul Truck (21-Axle Configuration)
Figure 3d.  Turning Radius of Heavy-Haul Truck (17-Axle Configuration)
Figure 4.Frost Restrictions on Nevada Highways
Figure 5.Caliente Intermodal Transfer Facility (Location Map)
Figure 6.Caliente Intermodal Transfer Facility (Detail Map)
Figure 7.US 93 Interchange with I-15
Figure 8.Scale Model of "Spaghetti Bowl" Interchange (Under Construction)

Planning Information Corporation
June 29, 1998

Back | TOC | Next