State commits $35 million to southern half of the Carson City freeway

Carson City and state officials announced Thursday that the state will commit $35 million to the southern half of the Carson City freeway.

The announcement should temper a rising battle that threatened to pit Northern Nevada's two giant highway projects - the Carson City bypass and Interstate 580 in Washoe County - against each other.

Until Thursday's compromise, it appeared that limited state road funding would have to go to one project or the other.

Committing funding to both projects means Phase 2, the southern leg of the Carson City freeway, will start in 2003, while design work continues for construction of I-580 beginning in 2002.

Although work on I-580 would begin earlier, the agreement marks the first time the Nevada Department of Transportation has committed funds to the southern leg of the Carson bypass and set a definite construction date.

"We don't want to pit one side against the other," said Susan Martinovich, NDOT assistant director. "These are regional projects, so it makes sense that (the counties) are communicating."

The new plan will go to the State Transportation Board on Sept. 20, when members consider funding for the next three years of highway projects.

If the plan is approved by board members, $15 million will be set aside in 2001 to fund right of way and design of Phase 2 in Carson City, and $20 million will be set aside in 2003 to begin construction on Phase 2.

State officials had previously expected to start Phase 2 in 2004 and finish in 2008. No completion date has been set for the new schedule.

"Phase 2 had been in the long-range element (of the state's improvement plan)," Martinovich said. "This is a different distribution."

The decision comes after intense discussions between Carson City and Washoe County since July.

City Manager John Berkich, who negotiated the deal with Washoe County and the state, said Washoe County agreed to stretch out construction of I-580 to loosen up funds for the Carson City freeway.

"Our interest in working with them was to be sure there wasn't a competition element between the two projects," Berkich said. "The governor expressed a concern in the last transportation board meeting that given the available funding and all the needs in the state, there might be a problem getting both projects done.

"We had to come up with a plan where both could be completed. We were working in the best interest of Northern Nevada. This eliminates what was perceived to be a competition between the I-580 and our project."

Derek Morse, executive director of the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission, said "cooperation is always a much better way to get things accomplished than infighting."

"Why wouldn't we look for a solution?" Morse said. "We sat down and said, 'We understand we've got a problem, let's look for a solution.' This wouldn't have come about if everyone hadn't been willing to sit down and talk.

"The folks in Northern Nevada need to get together and make sure our voice is heard by the state. We need to look beyond Washoe County and Lyon County and Carson City and work together to present a more cohesive voice in the halls of government to make sure that needs up here are addressed."

Martinovich said if the state board approves the plan, $115 million will also be committed to Phase 1 of the freeway, which is under construction in north Carson City. Expected to cost $136 million, the northern leg will take Highway 395 from Lakeview Hill to Highway 50 East.

The second phase - a $160 million, five-mile extension from Highway 50 East to the Spooner Summit Junction - is necessary to complete the bypass and carry traffic away from downtown Carson City.

Design work continues on both phases of Carson City's freeway. Martinovich said Phase 1 is about 60 percent designed, while Phase 2 is less than 30 percent designed. Continuing the design of both projects will allow state engineers to determine right-of-way needs in the southern corridor so they can figure out a construction schedule for Phase 2.

The nine-mile, $310 million I-580 extension is the last link in the freeway between Reno and Carson City. It is scheduled to be completed in 2006.


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