Highway 50 got the nickname "the Loneliest Road in America," because the coast-to-coast thoroughfare passed through many areas where you never saw another vehicle or person.
That's true no more, at least not in the western portion.
Fast-growing communities like Dayton have caused the Nevada Department of Transportation to take a look at the highway and try to imagine where it will be in 2025 by working with Lyon County and Carson City officials who are working on master plans for their respective communities.
NDOT initiated a comprehensive corridor study for Highway 50 in October 2005, to plan for future needs from Carson City east to Leeteville Junction in Churchill County.
A "Stakeholders Working Group" was put together, comprised of residents from affected communities, NDOT officials, government representatives and developers to coordinate where growth would take place, where traffic signals were needed, and other issues essential to controlling traffic on Highway 50.
The study was completed earlier this month.
Sandy Stanio, local government liaison for NDOT, said even with the slowdown in the housing market, the study is a valuable tool for future planning.
"The study was done to cover from now until 2035, so everything in it is proposed," she said. "There is nothing set in stone."
Stanio said NDOT and the group will seek public comment on their work in public hearings, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 25, in Silver Springs and Dayton.
"We're going to do the public hearings, then after we get the public input we will take it to the counties for formal approval," she said. "Since we've studied the corridor we can now look at the proposed projects that would need to be approved. It also gives us support for improving the corridor and to allow the corridor to remain a rural arterial road."
One of the drawbacks of Highway 50 is that it is the only east-west road that stretches from Carson City to Dayton and beyond. That means that it could be vulnerable to traffic congestion as the communities grow, as well as shutdown in case of a major accident or fire. Creating additional east-west routes in the communities is one way of alleviating Highway 50 congestion.
The study found that although Carson City is nearly built-out, it is the primary location for jobs for people from Mound House, Dayton, Stagecoach and Silver Springs, so traffic increases are from others coming into the area. Average traffic into the city from the east at Graves Lane is 45,000 two-way trips, which is expected to increase to between 65,000-99,000 trips by the year 2035.
Mound House is a combination of low- to middle-income residential and industrial, providing both jobs and residences, and is expected to grow both north and south. The highway through Mound House is a free-flow route with no traffic lights and no alternate east-west road requiring it to be used by local traffic as well as commuters. At State Route 341, the road to Virginia City, a traffic count put the number of two-way trips at between 25,000-30,500.
Dayton has shown the largest growth among the communities, and traffic has increased dramatically on the highway. The Carson River Bridge at Dayton Valley Road provides the only access to south of the river, though the Lyon County Commissioners have proposed a second bridge at Cardelli Road. Average daily trips range from 8,000 vehicles in the east to more than 20,000 at the west end of the valley. By 2012, that is expected to be 25,500-30,500 trips at Dayton Valley Road, 16,500-20,000 trips at Enterprise Way and 8,500-13,500 trips at Chaves Road.
Stagecoach residents must access Highway 50 to reach jobs, shopping and services in other communities along the corridor and in the region, according to the report. Average daily trips along this two-lane stretch of the highway are between 6,000-7,000.
Crosby Ranch, a major mixed-use subdivision planned for Stagecoach, when at full build-out, could add more than 10,000 residents with commercial, retail and community services to follow.
In Silver Springs, growth is expected because it has an intersection of two federal highways - Highway 50 and Highway 95A - that connect the two fastest growing communities, Dayton and Fernley.
In addition, USA Parkway, the road to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, is expected to intersect with Highway 50 in Silver Springs. This could lead to an expansion of the community to support these areas, with residences, commercial and retail locations and increased transportation opportunities at the Silver Springs Airport.
Transit service is recommended, including fixed-routes, car and van pooling, ride-sharing, early return trip service or on-demand options, to reduce congestion.
Improving intersection turning lanes, medians and pedestrian and bicycle access to the highway is recommended, as well as converting the highway from four-lane rural to eight-lane suburban with widening to include dedicated transit lanes.
The most sought-after improvement is traffic signals, which still have to meet state criteria, but Stanio said the study proposed controlled intersections. That designation could mean signals, but that is not the only option.
"It could be a lot of things," Stanio said. "Traffic signals, high-T, which allows you to have a lane you can wait in to merge with traffic, or it could be a roundabout."
Where traffic signals aren't feasible, higher-speed roundabouts are recommended, particularly at the intersection of 50 and 95A in Silver Springs.
Stanio said the study is just the beginning.
"It's a first step for any project to have all the basic information," she said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.