A freeway anybody could love, especially engineers

It's an engineer's dream. More than eight miles of concrete, complete with what is purported to be the longest and highest arch bridge in the entire U.S. of A.

Talk about a resume. "You're looking at the guy who connected Reno and Washoe Valley with the Mother of All Freeways," you'd be able to boast. "See that concrete arch bridge? Well, you'd have travel all the way to Japan, or China, or someplace like that to see a bigger one than that."

The stretch of highway-wanna-be-heaven is fondly referred to down at the Nevada Department of Transportation as the "I-580 Freeway Project." I say fondly because they are simply ga-ga over the prospect of building the highest and longest concrete arch bridge in the entire Free World.

Never mind that we really don't need the highest and longest concrete arch bridge in the entire Free World. At least not until we build the fastest and shortest way around Carson City.

But according to the NDOT timetable, which seems to change faster than an airport "Arrival and Departure" screen, Carson City is slated to get Phase One of the bypass (from North Carson to Highway 50 East) sometime in the next three or four years, depending on who you talk to last. Then, NDOT would like to tackle the I-580 Freeway Project, which will run from roughly Galena to the north end of Washoe Valley. Highway planners hope to have that completed by 2005 or so and then turn around and finish the rest of the Carson City bypass, from Highway 50 East to Highway 50 West.

In other words, motorists will be able to get to Carson City from Reno a lot faster than before, get on the first half of the bypass and eventually be dumped onto Highway 50 East. If they're heading to Dayton, it will be wonderful. If they're heading to Douglas County or South Carson City it will be very, very ugly. Especially by 2005, when I'm guessing we'll see roughly 40,000 vehicles per day using that route.

Looking over the slick NDOT newsletter dated "Fall 1999" and titled, "I-580 Freeway Extension Project," I got a sense for the excitement. Even through the myriad acronyms that government agencies are so proud of.

According to that newsletter, the SWG (that's short for Stakeholder's Working Group) and the PMT (that's short for Project Management Team) have "put their heads together" to design a freeway that "includes creative landscaping."

The results, according to the newsletter, will be "a freeway that blends with the natural landscape and conforms with the natural contours of the hills in the valley, a freeway that is safe during inclement weather, a freeway that preserves natural features such as the Ponderosa Pine Forest near Steamboat Creek."

Wow. You can almost hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background. Sounds like some public relations employee let his pen run off the highway. For the record, concrete never blends well with Ponderosa Pines and the only thing it's ever preserved was Jimmy Hoffa.

Besides, this can't be the very same SWG and PMT that gave Carson City such a hard time for wanting a little landscape on its bypass, can it? Perhaps landscape isn't as important for the Carson City bypass, which wouldn't be the nation's longest and highest anything.

Maybe someone needs to remind the NDOT acronyms that the I-580 project was rated lower than the Carson City Bypass on NDOT's own needs assessment scale. Former state controller Darrel Daines, who served on the Nevada Transportation Board for 16 years, also tried to remind transportation officials that the Carson City bypass project was, "intended to eliminate the transportation bottleneck that affects not only Carson City, but all of the surrounding communities," and that building the I-580 freeway before finishing the bypass, "merely increases the volume of traffic destined to clog that bottleneck."

You would think that the transportation professionals qualified to serve on SWGs and PMTs would know that already.

Unfortunately, love is blind. The I-580 Freeway Project and its tall and long features has rendered NDOT officials hopelessly head over heels.

Hopefully someone can slap them back to reality before they convince the rest of us that concrete smells just like Ponderosa Pine and traffic jams are like rivers rolling lazily through flowered meadows.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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