Officials backpedal on bypass bike path

The Nevada Department of Transportation's plans to cut a bike path from the construction of the Carson City freeway have been put on hold for now.

State transportation spokesman Scott Magruder said department officials decided Tuesday to modify the proposed bike path and work on getting its estimated $7.5 million cost down rather than eliminate it from consideration.

Magruder said the transportation department has a new preliminary plan to show to city supervisors Thursday.

The plans show parts of the bike path being pulled from parts of the freeway's western edge onto city streets, allowing a bike lane at almost no cost and a reduction in expensive retaining walls.

The plan is a brainstorming effort between the state and the city to find a compromise to the path issue. Who will pay for the path hasn't been resolved.

"Things do change," Magruder said. "It's really a funding issue. When you've got a $7 million to $8 million estimate, that's a little high, almost $2 million a mile. We're looking at reducing the costs.

"There are no promises. We may still consider pulling it from our plan. We're not against bikes, we're just trying to build a freeway. But we're going to work with the city to come up with a more feasible solution."

Carson City Regional Transportation Commissioner Marv Teixeira said if a compromise for funding for the path comes to an impasse, the city could consider extending its gas tax commitment to the state to fund the path.

The city enacted a 5-cent gas tax in February 1997, which will end in July 2012. The city has committed $19 million generated by the tax to the freeway's construction.

"Once the bypass is constructed, it will never be enhanced," Teixeira said. "It will be the biggest intrusion this community has ever seen. If it's possible to extend the bike path, why not consider it?"

Several homegrown groups are looking to the state and Carson City to make sure the freeway isn't a barren strip of land that merely transports cars from one end of town to the other.

Community groups such as Muscle Powered and Gardeners Reclaiming Our Waysides want to see a multi-use path and linear park skirting the freeway which would allow pedestrians and bicyclists a north-south route through Carson City.

The path was never included in the freeway's construction costs, although it has been envisioned by city and state officials for years.

The bike path was included in the city's transportation plan in 1994 and in the state transportation plan in 1996. A $7.5 million price tag for about 3.8 miles of trail forced the state transportation department to consider removing the path from its transportation plan.

Before the bike path could be removed from the state plan, it would have to go through a public review process, Magruder said.

Freeway project manager Jim Gallegos said the controversial cost was generated by following the city's bike plan. In the city's plan portions of the path run under the freeway in large box culverts, Gallegos said, which equate to a huge expense. Add lighting, necessary drainage and about $1.5 million worth of retaining walls and the price for the path climbs, he said.

A private engineer hired by Muscle Powered showed the path could be built for around $2 million, but Gallegos said he suspected that estimate only included minimal improvements.

Gallegos and Magruder said extra right-of-way costs were also a concern as well as opposition from residents who might not want a bike path in their back yard.

Parks and Recreation Director Steve Kastens said he is working on getting easements from residents to help cut costs.

"NDOT hasn't officially taken action to remove the bike plan from the state plan," Kastens said. "Since that is the case, we're doing whatever we can to accommodate the bike path. We're doing what we can to eliminate the retaining walls. If I can get a donated or free easement, I'm going to save somebody money in retaining walls."

Landscaping is a separate and also unaddressed cost, Magruder said.

Supervisor Jon Plank will present a letter of support at Thursday's board of supervisors meeting declaring Carson City's support of the path/linear park concept.

"It's not appropriate to have a rain forest from one end of town to the other," Plank said. "But it's no more appropriate to have bare dirt from one end to the other, either.

"Perhaps the big fear for NDOT is that this will be precedent setting," Plank added. "This is not a stretch of freeway like Interstate 80 from Winnemucca to Lovelock. In Carson City we wanted to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles as well as motorized vehicles.

"Have you ever tried to remodel a house? It's easier to do it right the first time. To add those things at a later date will cost more money than if it's done with the project."

Residents backing the project argue that the path is as important to Carson City as the freeway itself. It has also become an issue that has drawn support from outside Carson City, making the issue a regional one.

Muscle Powered President Anne Macquarie said the bike path her group estimates at $2 million would be the backbone of Carson's non-auto transportation system.

"We're the capital city and we should have this done right," Macquarie said.

"It's not as if this is a last-minute surprise. The state should have budgeted for the path as part of the project. In not trying to design or plan for the phased construction of the bike path, they left themselves nothing to do except amend the statewide plan."

Macquarie and GROW president Mary Fischer are asking residents to write the governor and members of the state board of transportation to consider residents' wishes for the bike path.

Washoe Valley resident Jack Sorensen, president of Reno-based Procrastinating Pedalers, said there is no safe north/south link through Carson City for cyclists.

"If they built it, it would be a real asset," Sorensen said. "That NDOT is resisting it is somewhat at variance with what the residents are interested in."

What: Carson City Board of Supervisors

When: Thursday, 8:30 a.m.

Where: the Community Center's Sierra Room, 851 E. William St.


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