PROGRESS: Freeway extension draws traffic out of downtown
The latest extension of the freeway bypass has siphoned thousands of cars off of Carson Street, helping Carson City “put the town back in downtown,” said Tammy Westergard, deputy manager of Carson City’s Office of Business Development.
“It takes all the pass-through traffic off Carson Street,” Westergard said.
The city’s ultimate vision is a downtown Carson Street with just two traffic lanes, parking and a much more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
“It’s to bring it back to what it used to be before four lanes came barreling through,” she said.
To pay for it, Supervisor Robin Williamson said the city is hoping Rep. Dean Heller and Sen. Harry Reid can get the city a $12 million transportation grant it has applied for.
But downtown businesses are split on whether the impact is good or bad.
The section of the bypass from Highway 50 to Fairview Drive opened in September, causing the number vehicles on the freeway to rise by 11,000 a day. That includes most of the trucks that formerly had to drive through town.
For Victor Honein, owner of the AM-PM minimarket and gas station at Carson Street and Highway 50, that’s a bad thing.
“Mainly, the biggest impact is on gas,” he said. “Opening the freeway doesn’t help a business like mine.”
He was joined by Gennie Houser, restaurant manager of the McDonald’s at Carson Street and Winnie Lane.
“It’s hurting us customer-count wise,” she said.
Houser 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 – and many of them stop at her restaurant on the way.
“We get all the travelers,” she said.
Kurt Spradley, owner of Carson Coffee Espresso a block south of Winnie on Carson Street, said the new section of freeway has actually helped his business because the trucks are gone, making it much easier for his customers to turn left and 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.”
It’s had a few other effects as well. NHP Trooper Larry Barnes said getting the trucks off of Carson Street has made it much safer – especially for pedestrians. Trooper Dan Lopez credits the freeway with cutting the number accidents downtown in half. Last October there were 20 accidents on Carson Street. This October, there were just 11.
Nevada Department of Transportation officials say they are still reviewing the impact of the new freeway section on traffic patterns throughout the area. But they said those impacts aren’t limited to downtown, that the freeway is changing patterns on Highway 50, Stewart and Roop streets and Saliman Road as well.
The completed leg of the project from Highway 50 south to Fairview Drive cost $45 million.
But the state still doesn’t have funding for the final section of the project, which will stretch south from Fairview and connect the freeway back to U.S. 395 South at Spooner Junction. That project is estimated at $120-$140 million.
NDOT is still seeking federal funds for that work from either the Highway Fund or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.