- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A project to build a 15-mile bypass around Boulder City was put on hold after researchers found naturally occurring asbestos in the area.

Bidding for a $12 million contract for initial work was canceled in light of the research by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and officials will instead test to see whether the asbestos poses any danger to public health.

“Is this a showstopper?” transportation board chair Gov. Brian Sandoval said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “This was a bomb that was dropped.”

John Terry of the Nevada Department of Transportation called it “more of a show slower-downer.”

The bypass, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, would divert freeway traffic from the congested streets of the small town and is a key element of a proposed Interstate 11 linking Las Vegas and Phoenix. It was unclear how long the project might be delayed.

The peer-reviewed asbestos study, which was published in November’s journal of the Soil Science Society of America, describes potentially toxic, asbestos-type minerals in rocks and dust running from Boulder City to the southeastern edge of the Las Vegas valley.

Bypass construction would require moving large quantities of dirt and would stir up potentiality dangerous dust.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada found only low levels of the carcinogen in two out of 10 samples taken, said Tina Quigley, general manager with the agency.

Two hundred more tests are being conducted at a cost of $259,000.

The board approved up to $400,000 for sampling, testing and analyzing the dirt. The process is expected to take four to eight months.