Freeway's beginning dates back 30 years

The story of the Interstate 580 project dates back 30 years to the controversy over which route the project should take from the Mount Rose Highway to the north end of Washoe Valley.

The Nevada Department of Transportation originally put six different proposals before the public in 1976, none of them the route that was finally chosen.

Two went around the west side of Steamboat Hills through Callaghan Ranch, land now occupied by some of the Reno area's most expensive homes. Two other routes went east of the existing Highway 395 route. One of the proposals would have followed the existing alignment of the highway, providing barriers through Pleasant Valley and building frontage roads with access to the highway at each end.

The final option was basically to ignore the problem south of the Mount Rose Highway, which all sides fairly rapidly agreed wasn't really an option.

While engineers favored the routes through Callaghan Ranch, there was pressure politically from those who wanted that area to become housing as well as concerns about American Indian archaeological sites, damage to habitat which the area's wildlife rely on and the fact the highway would become a visible scar for a large portion of south Reno.

The routes to the east of the existing road were unpopular with many for similar reasons.

After a number of hearings and even a lawsuit by a resident's group to force a detailed environmental impact study, the alignment halfway up the eastern side of Steamboat Hills was selected. The route chosen was unpopular with engineers because of the difficulty of building bridge structures through a geothermal field and along the hillside as well as the large bridge required to cross Galena Creek in that area. But politically, it was the most acceptable choice.

The project languished for two decades because the decision was made to fund and build the freeway one phase at a time.

When the freeway finally reached Mount Rose Highway, the state got serious about the funding. At that point, in the mid-1990s, the estimated cost of the project was about $200 million to build freeway from Mount Rose Highway to Winters Ranch at the north end of Washoe Valley.

As preliminary design work began in 1998, that estimate quickly rose to $250 million.

Preliminary design work started in the fall of 1998 but it took until 2005 to acquire all the needed right of way and finish the design.

When the project was announced in 2003, the estimated total cost had reached $310 million.

The first contract was issued that year to Edward Kraemer and Sons. For $79.5 million, they were to build four bridges including the Galena Creek Structure. Kraemer asked to end the contract in 2006 because of concerns about the safety of raising the 400 foot concrete and steel arches designed to hold the roadbed. The company was paid a little more than $50 million for the three small bridges and the work done on Galena.

The project contract was rewritten and again put out to bid. Fisher Sand & Gravel, in partnership with CC Myers, which specializes in bridge work, won the contract with a bid of $393,393,393 and began work just before the first of this year.

The project is scheduled for completion in late summer of 2011 at a total cost of just under $444 million.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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