State OKs $150 million for Carson bypass next year

Carson City received a firm committment from the State Board of Transportation on Wednesday to fund Phase 2 of the Carson City freeway.

The Nevada Transportation Board on Wednesday approved a $650 million budget that includes $150 million for the Carson City bypass over the next two years.

In addition, the board approved a long-range spending plan that puts $135 million more into the Carson project by 2010 to finish the bypass from the north to the south end of town.

"This should lay to rest and get rid of all those goofy tuna cans," said Gov. Kenny Guinn, referring to Carson Supervisor Jon Plank's graphic protest over the controversy earlier this month.

Plank, who said in 1996 the gas tax used to fund the bypass would cost Carson residents about the price of a can of tuna each month, started a recent meeting by putting a tuna can on the dais in front of state officials as the meeting started.

Kent Cooper, program development coordinator, told board members the 2001-2002 budget contains about $20 million more for the Carson City project than the original funding plan presented in March - money freed up by shifting schedules on the I-580 project in Washoe County.

Construction of the northern half of the bypass is already under way and some $52 million has been spent on right of way. The biggest chunk of cash in the budget approved Wednesday is $115 million for Phase 1B, which will complete the northern half of the project - including construction of a bridge over Highway 50 East. State officials insisted the Highway 50 bridge showed their commitment to the project. Until Wednesday, only $13 million had been set aside for Phase 2 work.

Another $15 million in 2001 is set for design work for the southern half of the bypass.

An added $20 million in 2003, Cooper said, will begin actual construction south of Highway 50 East, including a bridge over Fairview Drive.

State Transportation Director Tom Stephens and Guinn both said funding for the Carson City project doesn't take money from I-580, the $310 million extension of the freeway between Reno and Carson City.

Guinn explained the funding of the two projects "so people will see there's no money jumping off this page onto the other page."

Stephens said both projects will be completed. He said major work on I-580 should start in July 2002 with construction of the interchange at the north end of Washoe Valley.

The state's budget includes $230 million for the I-580 project, which will be completed in five parts, Cooper said. Stephens said four years worth of construction is slated for I-580 after work starts.

Bypass funding represents $285 million of the $293 million total projects planned for Carson City over the next 10 years.

The state is still working under the assumption that the freeway will be completed between 2008 and 2010. Jim Gallegos, Carson City freeway project manager, said dates regarding the freeway have always been general and not set in stone. With a go-ahead from the state for funding, design on the project can move ahead. As the design of the project gets further along, a more clear completion date will emerge, he said.

"Those dates are still the best we have," Gallegos said. "The more information we get the more we'll know what obstacles we're going to face in Phase 2. (2008) is a goal, and we're going to do the best we can to meet that goal."

Former Mayor Marv Teixeira, who helped work out the 1996 deal with the state to get the bypass project going, said he was pleased with the deal.

"This does commit to completion of the Carson bypass," he said. "That's the positive, absolutely."

Mayor Ray Masayko said there were two steps to getting a full state commitment on the bypass.

"One was getting the gas tax committed to and one was getting a fiscal commitment for construciton of Phase 2," Masayko said. "If this doesn't get rid of the controversial issues around the freeway, I don't know what will. This doesn't mean we can rest on on our laurels. We need to pay attention to schedules and maintaining schedules."

After the meeting Stephens said there have been numerous complaints about the rising cost of both the I-580 and Carson City projects, but that those are things state engineers can't control. In addition to the rapidly increasing cost of the land needed for the freeways, he said the routes selected for both will greatly increase construction costs.

"Both the alignments for I-580 and the Carson City bypass were selected by a public hearing process," he said. "Were it up to engineers, we would not be going through a geothermal field and along the side of a hill," he said referring to the I-580 route across Steamboat Hot Springs and through Pleasant Valley.

"And the Carson bypass? I don't think any engineer would go through the bottom of a flood plain. We have to build the grand canal through there," he said pointing out that the original plan would have gone around the west side of town.


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