Above the city | NevadaAppeal.com

Above the city

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Motorists began driving on the northernmost portion of the freeway on Aug. 26.

When the dust clears next spring, Carson City will have a brand new bypass.

After more than 20 years of planning, phase one of Carson City’s $120 million freeway construction project from Highway 395 at Arrowhead Drive to Highway 50 East will open to motorists in about eight months.

Early plans had put the completion of the four and a half mile segment by fall 2006.

Jim Gallegos, Nevada Department of Transportation project manager for the Carson City freeway, said workers are on schedule to be completed by April.

Phase one of the project included building the four bridges spanning Arrowhead Drive, Northgate Lane, Emerson Drive and College Parkway. Those bridges cost $14 million, plus $70 million in construction and right-of-way costs, bringing the total cost of phase one to $120 million.

“Phase one will definitely help this side of town – not necessarily downtown yet,” said NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder while touring the construction zone that will be Carson City’s six-lane vein around the city. Phase one will open with four lanes.

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Carson City officials are eager for the freeway to ease downtown congestion, which would encourage more pedestrian traffic.

Motorists have an idea of what the new North Carson Street on-ramp will look like because they’ve been driving on it for a week. Northbound traffic on Highway 395 merges onto the new freeway on-ramp, then into the two new freeway lanes. The four lanes narrow to three going up the hill and then they will narrow to the two-lane existing road through Washoe Valley.

The interstate under construction in Washoe Valley will connect with Highway 395 at the north end of Washoe Valley. It is scheduled to be completed in 2009. The whole length will be called I-580.

When it’s completed, Carson City will no longer be a state capital without interstate access – a short list that includes Pierre, S.D., Jefferson City, Mo., and Dover, Del.

The first exit

Traveling south on the new freeway, motorists will first see Exit 43 for North Carson Street, which will also be known as 395 Business.

This will give motorists quick access to the hotels and car dealerships on North Carson Street and Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center on Medical Parkway.

“It will change the traffic flow heading south down Carson Street, since what is now the main highway will change to an off ramp,” said Kevin Stansbury, chief operating officer for Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare. “Hopefully it will slow traffic down. Over time it will increase the traffic driving by the campus as it will be easier to drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe. This may have the effect of increasing visibility for the medical center. Combined with the completion of Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center it will greatly improve the front door to our community.”

Dave Friedrich, owner of the new Hampton Inn & Suites, said he and his wife, Sheri, chose this location for their $9 million hotel because of the prime access to the freeway. But he’s looking for more fiscal impact on his hotel after the entire project is completed.

“I expect it’s going to be a good thing for the hotel, which was one of my decision criteria in buying that land,” he said. “It’s visible from both 395 and the bypass ,which makes it an ideal location. So we’re excited to have the freeway completion getting closer.”

The 50,000-square-foot hotel will open in mid-September.

This week NDOT workers could be seen walking on scaffolding along the freeway, twisting steel rods that make the core for 1-foot thick cement sound walls. Dust and wind battered the workers.

The sound walls are 12 feet tall in most areas and cost about $2 million a mile to construct. Four and a half miles of sound walls were used for phase one. The mountain motif sound walls will eventually be painted taupe.

“When you’re running a big, expensive freeway right through a community, sound walls are a big deal,” Magruder said.

One sound wall section is 17 feet tall, between Carmine Street and College Parkway, because the road drops in elevation, said assistant resident engineer Rob Welsh. When the freeway drops in elevation, the sound wall must go higher. But dropping the road saved money because adding sound wall is cheaper than bringing in fill.

“The sound walls over the bridges are the biggest holdup to getting done because they’re the last thing you have to do, because workers have to fit them to the bridges,” he said.

Looking through the doorways in the sound wall, used so that workers can easily get from one side to the other, you can see the tree tops and residential streets.

Here are the people most affected by the freeway construction – their rooftops are hundreds of feet from the hot black asphalt. Most of phase one has been leveled or received its asphalt overlay.

Exit 44, College Parkway

Traffic whizzed beneath the College Parkway overpass, what motorists will soon use as easy access to Carson City’s Wal-Mart Supercenter. This week, the single point urban interchange is a rough draft of what it will become – an avenue for thousands to daily pull up to the largest retailer in the world.

Front loaders worked around the 203,000-square-foot store moving dirt and rock. Dust stirred in the wind before a water truck passed over the ground. A newly paved parking lot looked like a black lake before the earth-toned supercenter.

“It’s just going to make it easier,” Carson City Wal-Mart Store Manager Scott Yoder said. “I’ve lived in the city for three or four years and it’s difficult to get around. It’ll make access to our building a lot easier for everyone.”

The Wal-Mart is about 75 percent staffed and on track to open Oct. 26, he said. The 203,000-square-foot supercenter, at 3200 Table Rock Drive, will have a full grocery, beauty salon, fun center, McDonald’s restaurant, vision center, one-hour photo and garden center.

Exit 45, Highway 50

The second full interchange on phase one includes a bridge over the highway that no one will use for several years until the next phase is complete.

“When the freeway opens the increased traffic will always be welcome,” said Nate Lance, owner of Mulligan’s restaurant and sports pub on Highway 50 East.

He and co-owner, Damon George, took over operations of the restaurant in April. One of the reasons why they decided to buy the old Tequila Dan’s location was because it was near the new freeway.

“Keep the streets open and we’ll be happy,” Lance said.

The Carson City freeway

• The $70 million section from Highway 395 at Arrowhead Drive to Highway 50 East will open to traffic in April.

• The next phase, from Highway 50 to Fairview Drive, will cost $40 million and construction will begin in 2006. It’s planned to be completed in 2008.

• The last section to Highway 50 at Spooner, an $80 million project, should go to bid while the previous phase is in construction. It’s planned to be completed in 2010.

• Full interchanges will be constructed at Highway 50 East, at Fairview Drive and at the Highway 50 -Spooner junction at the South Carson Street intersection.

• Grade separation structures will be constructed at Fifth Street, Koontz Lane, Clearview Drive and Snyder Avenue. The separations will allow traffic to pass over the freeway with no access provided to the freeway.

• Due to funding, the southern project will be constructed in two stages. The first will include the completion of the interchange at Highway 50 East, a partial interchange at Fairview Drive, the grade separated crossing at Fifth Street, the Linear Ditch Park multi-use path, storm drainage facilities and roadway improvements.

• The second phase will include completion of the Fairview Drive Interchange, construction of the interchange at South Carson Street, the grade separated crossings at Koontz Lane, Clearview Drive and Snyder Avenue, the remainder of the freeway drainage system, sound walls and completion of the roadway.

– Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.