The Nevada Department of Transportation plans to hold an open meeting this fall to take public comment on the much-anticipated USA Parkway.
The 18-mile road project would connect Storey County and Lyon County, from Interstate 80 east of Reno to Highway 50 in Silver Springs.
The highway, also known as State Route 439, would improve and streamline access from Lyon County, which has the state’s second highest unemployment rate, to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center as well as Sparks and Reno.
A stretch of the road from I-80 into the Storey County industrial park is already paved.
The Federal Highway Administration is expected to approve the project’s environmental study this fall, after which NDOT can begin to design it, according to Rudy Malfabon, director of NDOT, speaking at a breakfast meeting hosted by Northern Nevada Development Authority in Carson City last week.
Malfabon said he expects the preferred alternative outlined in the environmental study to win approval.
That alternative, called the Opal Avenue alternative, would pick up the road in Storey County near TRIC and run partly through Bureau of Land Management land and end at Highway 50 about a mile east of the Ramsey Weeks cutoff.
Malfabon said there is strong support for the project from the transportation board, which must approve all NDOT construction projects above $5 million.
“It has great benefit-to-cost ratio,” said Malfabon. “It’s nine to one.”
Malfabon said NDOT projects are evaluated using five weighted criteria, including economic development, which accounts for 25 percent of the overall score.
But money is tight, he said.
“It’s been a challenge finding funding for the project,” said Malfabon.
The highway is estimated to cost between $45 million to $55 million to build.
NDOT’s 2013 budget funding includes $351 million from federal fuel tax, $186 million from state fuel tax and $100 million from highway bonds.
But that federal piece is about to go off the cliff, said Malfabon, if the U.S. Congress doesn’t pass a transportation bill. The current funding bill expires Sept. 30.
Malfabon said he expects Congress to soon pass a bill expiring in May 2015 to tide the state’s over until a newly elected Congress can draft and pass new legislation lasting five to six years.