With the much-anticipated opening this month of the new I-580 Freeway from Reno to Washoe Valley, traveling between our state capital and Reno is changing in many significant and safer ways. As the Nevada Department of Transportation readies the freeway for vehicles, I thought it appropriate to look at the history of the freeway and how it will improve our quality of life.
A question I often hear is: "Why the freeway, and why was it constructed on the side of a mountain?"
First, discussions of an interstate freeway connecting Carson City to Reno date back to the 1960s. The selection of the alignment along the side of the mountain through Pleasant Valley was decided by the Washoe County Commission in the 1980s after many public hearings. Several alternate routes were presented, but after much debate, the Washoe County Commission chose the final alignment, which determined where the road had to be constructed.
During the 1990s, NDOT was tasked with the challenge of acquiring the right-of-way and designing the freeway and its nine bridges. Also during this time, a stakeholders group was formed consisting of concerned citizens, local residents and NDOT representatives to consider how the freeway would impact the community along the route.
In 2003, the first construction contract was awarded for $79 million to begin the project. Although the contractor didn't finish the first phase, about $50 million of the project was completed. Fisher Industries was awarded the final contract for $393 million in late 2006, with construction getting under way in January 2007. The total cost of the project is $440 million.
It's been widely reported that this freeway will save motorists traveling from Reno and Carson City about eight minutes in commute time, and that is indeed good news. It is also important to know that the freeway also will provide a critical asset in our regional economic development efforts, as companies doing business in the Carson City area, and those looking to relocate here, will now have more efficient access to Reno, I-80, Reno-Tahoe International Airport and main transportation arteries for their products and services.
However, the main reason why the I-580 freeway was built is to save lives. Currently, the existing U.S. 395 highway south of Reno is an undivided, four-lane highway that runs through the residential communities of Steamboat, Pleasant Valley and Washoe City.
According to NDOT, more than 40,000 vehicles use U.S. 395 every day, and a large percentage of those vehicles will use the new I-580 freeway once it opens to traffic. Tragically, since 1990 there have been more than a dozen fatalities on the current route, many caused by head-on collisions. Now, commuters will enjoy a divided highway, separated by a 4-foot high center median that will all but eliminate the possibility of a head-on collision.
Additionally, as a result of Northern Nevada having an interstate freeway connecting Reno with the state's capital, residents living along the existing U.S. 395 highway will get their communities back. There will be less traffic passing through the valley during the morning and afternoon rush hours once the freeway officially opens to traffic in the next couple of weeks. Children, families and local drivers will be much safer.
The construction of the Galena Creek Bridge has generated positive local and national media attention to our region. At 1,700 feet in length, it has been billed as the world's largest concrete cathedral arch bridge - an architectural marvel.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two very important Nevadans who played significant roles in getting this project completed: Sen. Bill Raggio and Gov. Kenny Guinn. Sen. Raggio was instrumental during his long and distinguished term in the Legislature in keeping this project moving forward, and Gov. Guinn was chairman of the State Transportation Board when the final contracts were approved and awarded in 2003 and 2006.
All those involved with the construction and successful completion of the I-580 freeway are to be commended. They include NDOT, the contractors, subcontractors, the Federal Highway Administration and our community stakeholders.
Although I-580 has generated much historical debate, the project is complete and will undeniably save lives, help with economic development and provide a state-of-the-art transportation route between Reno and Carson City. Nevada will be well served by this important and historic road project.
• Gov. Brian Sandoval can be reached through his website, gov.nv.gov.