Opening the freeway bypass from Highway 50 to Fairview has made a major difference in the traffic on Carson Street.
The change most drivers noticed first was the huge reduction in the number of trucks driving through town. But according to Nevada Department of Transportation officials, the freeway's impact goes well beyond that.
Michael Lawson, chief of the Traffic Information Division, said the counter on the freeway bypass shows traffic volumes between the north end of town and Highway 50 have increased by 11,000 vehicles a day, jumping by 5,000 the first day the new section opened.
"My professional opinion is that the 11,000 extra vehicles per day now on the bypass north of Highway 50 were previously on Carson Street north of William," he said.
The actual reduction to traffic on Carson Street, however, isn't available because Lawson's staff hasn't been able to collect data from the counters on Carson Street yet.
NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder agreed with Lawson's assessment, saying that means the number of vehicles using the freeway has nearly doubled to almost 30,000 a day since the new section opened Sept. 24.
He said since it's doubtful the total traffic volume increased Sept. 24, "those cars had to come off of Carson Street."
The new section made it possible for trucks and other vehicles just passing through to avoid the stop-and-go driving trough downtown.
Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Dan Lopez, who patrols downtown every day, credits the freeway with another positive effect: Last October there were 20 accidents in the downtown corridor. This year there were 11.
"Most of the trucks are going away from downtown except the local deliveries," Lopez said. "There are some people going through who take downtown because that's the way they always went."
He said more and more of those drivers are discovering the new route, helped along by signs at the north end which now describe the Carson Street off-ramp as the business route and the freeway as the route to Minden and Lake Tahoe. At the south end, signs clearly point traffic away from downtown and onto the freeway at Fairview Drive.
Trooper Larry Barnes said the word is spreading among truckers. He said getting the trucks out of town has made things safer, especially for pedestrians. He said he counted more than 30 trucks on the new section of freeway in just three hours one day last week.
Both troopers said downtown feels less congested now as well.
Lopez said one problem he sees is the increased congestion on Fairview during rusk hours.
Barnes said the biggest problem he sees at this point is "the race to get to the ramp at Fairview." When southbound drivers realize the freeway is ending, Barnes said "they don't want anybody to beat them to that ramp."
As a result, he said he has made 51 traffic stops on that last section since it opened.
But he said he hasn't seen any wrecks there yet.
As for the impact of the new section on business downtown, it seems to depend on the kind of business.
Victor Honein, owner of the AM-PM gas station and convenience store at Carson Street and Highway 50, said it's hurt him.
"Mainly, the biggest impact is on gas," he said. "It shows more on gas than inside the store."
He said part of his problem is location, that gas stations on either end of town tend to do better when there is a change in the traffic patterns than one in the middle of town.
"Opening the freeway doesn't help a business like mine."
Honein said the impact has been relatively small because he still has a large number of local regular customers as well as tourists.
Gennie Houser, restaurant manager at the McDonald's on Carson Street and Winnie Lane, said the new freeway has hurt them a bit as well.
"It's hurting us customer-count wise," she said.
Houser, however, said she thinks that reduction will be at least partially offset by the economy during the holidays since more people will be driving to see relatives rather than flying.
"Today a lot of people are taking their car, and we get all the travelers," she said.
In contrast, Curt Spradley, who owns Carson Coffee Espresso, a block south of Winnie Lane, said his business has been helped by the bypass.
"For October we were up, and for November, I can tell you we're not down," he said.
Spradley said the reason is that most of those big trucks are gone.
Many of his customers have to turn left across the traffic to get to his coffee shop.
"After about 4 p.m. because of the big trucks, you can't get in here," he said. "So it's helped us at this point."
Other businesses, such as the more traditional, sit-down restaurants, say they really haven't seen much impact. A spokesman for Heidi's - one of the capital's oldest businesses at 73 years in business - said there has been very little impact at this point.
Transportation officials say they will have better data on how the new section has affected traffic patterns in the future. Lawson said he suspects volumes on Stewart, Saliman and Roop streets have decreased some because of the new piece of freeway as well.