I-580 proponents say mammoth project will put an end to a dangerous highway

Proponents of the Interstate 580 project, which will create a six-lane freeway from Mount Rose Highway to Winters Ranch, say building the freeway will put an end to one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Northern Nevada.

According to Nevada Department of Transportation statistics, there have been 1,020 accidents, four of those involving pedestrians, since 1994 on Highway 395 between Carson City and the Mount Rose intersection. Of those, there were 27 fatalities, one a pedestrian.

"The stats on the number of deaths are mindboggling," said Bob Rusk, a member of the I-580 "working group" from Washoe Valley. "I've nearly been killed on two occasions. It's the most dangerous stretch of highway in the state of Nevada. How do you delay fixing the most dangerous undivided highway? If you can do something about that, you should."

Russ Carpenter, another group member from Pleasant Valley, said Highway 395 traffic between Reno and Carson has gone beyond the road's capacity.

"Highway 395 is a killer," Carpenter said. "It's killing people. We live here. We have neighbors who go out and put blankets on people who've died.

"If there's an accident on Carson Street, it doesn't stop all the cars from going north or south. You can turn left or right, you can get around. If there's an accident in, say, Steamboat Valley, unless you choose to go around by Sand Harbor or over Geiger Grade, you're stuck. There's no alternate way to move around. The stretch of road through Pleasant Valley is the most fatal in Northern Nevada."

Carpenter and Rusk both said the state taking into account their concerns with what will be a "community eyesore" is the best way to build a freeway accepted by the community.

"I think this is the first thing they've done something like this on a major project," Rusk said. "Hopefully its not the last. It causes a lot of stress on the staff because they have to interface with the people who will be affected by the project."

NDOT created the stakeholders working group to "get buy-in with the community on the project," said Todd Montgomery, I-580 project manager.

Getting buy-in included the state creating a group of 25 members representing about 11 different groups to recommend design elements to the project. The group chose the design of the $43 million Galena Creek Bridge.

The group has also made landscaping and other design recommendations to NDOT.

"It's worth the effort to create something that is acceptable in the community," Montgomery said. "Aesthetics has been a big issue. People are real passionate about landscaping. They don't want the conventional bust-a-highway-through look. They want natural vegetation, they want retaining walls."

The group includes representatives from several Washoe Valley area homeowners groups, the Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Highway Administration, Washoe County officials, and even a representative from the Sierra Club.

Montgomery said the group doesn't always come up with ideas that are feasible but many of their suggestions have been incorporated in the project's design.

For example, the group didn't want to see fill material for the project create huge embankments above Pleasant Valley. So the project was designed to include retaining walls that will stop the embankment from going too far down the hill and will be more visually pleasing than a traditional dirt slope.

While a similar group wasn't created for the Carson City freeways planning process, state officials say numerous public meetings on the project have kept Carson City residents involved.

"We have had many more public meetings for the Carson City freeway than the I-580," said Scott Magruder, NDOT spokesman. "We've had four or five times the public hearings. I realize it's a little different than an actual working group, but some of these public meetings have been sparsely attended because it hasn't been that controversial.

"People don't even go to them after a while. We've been working with the Board of Supervisors, and early on in this project, there wasn't a need for a stakeholders group.

"They're two different projects. People didn't want the I-580 up on the hill. The Carson City project was more welcome. People said, 'We need a freeway.' Maybe some of the details weren't worked out - here we are with the landscaping issues - but (the freeway) was more welcome. The public involvement on the Carson City freeway has been extreme. There are still more public hearings coming up."

Montgomery said his project team is trying to design the I-580 to be similar to Colorado's Glenwood Canyon project.

Designers of the $480 million Glenwood Canyon project put a 12.8 mile, four-lane freeway into the bottom of an environmentally sensitive river canyon.

The project completed Interstate 70 through Colorado and won nearly every design award possible.

"We're trying to do it like the Glenwood project where it looks like it was dropped into the terrain," Montgomery said. "We want it to mold with the existing terrain. In certain areas, it will have a natural progression of bitter brush and sagebrush. Parts will have topsoil to encourage growth of natural vegetation."

Montgomery said the terrain creates some unique design challenges. The freeway is cutting across some geothermal areas. Geothermically altered soil doesn't allow much vegetation to grow on it. Designing the freeway so the steam can vent through the freeway is a challenge.

The freeway also includes $95 million worth of some of the largest bridges in the state. The Galena Creek bridge would be the second-largest concrete arch span bridge in the world.

The 27 deaths on Highway 395 over the past six years alone convince Montgomery his project is worth its estimated $300-million-plus price tag.

"This didn't just come up," Montgomery said, nodding to an I-580 time line.

The I-580 didn't just happen. It's the final segment of a project started in 1957. State engineers began planning the I-580 in 1957 and built the first section, incidentally from Carson City to Lakeview Hill, in 1964. The rest of the project created the current Highway 395 through Reno, the most recent section of which opened in 1998. The last segment to finish the 43-year project is the mammoth piece through Washoe Valley.

The State Transportation Board is scheduled to discuss Wednesday future funding for the I-580 and both phases of the Carson City freeway.

The first phase of the nine-mile I-580 project is scheduled to be bid in mid-2001 and be completed in 2005.


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