By Bill O’Driscoll
Anyone who’s driven Interstate 80 east knows all too well of the increasingly clogged freeway that’s a product of the remarkable business growth between Sparks and Fernley.
And that’s just the local traffic — commuters, delivery trucks and semis going to and coming from Tesla, Switch and the mammoth warehouses that operate in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRI) and on surrounding properties along both sides of I-80.
Toss in the longer-haul and transcontinental truckers and travelers just passing through, and any accident or other obstruction, no matter how small, quickly clogs traffic as far as the eye can see. If you’re lucky, that’s on a sunny warm day. Winter conditions like icy roads and nasty fog that often forms in the valley where USA Parkway, gateway to TRI, intersects with I-80 can only add to the misery index.
None of that is good for business, and business along the Sparks-Fernley route is only going to grow in a commercial corridor that over the past decade has become a major magnet for jobs fueling the greater Reno-Sparks economy.
None of this has been lost on those whose mission is to find solutions. The Nevada Department of Transportation and local agencies are watching and working on plans – most of which will not happen soon, unfortunately; as always, it’s a matter of funding to meet the challenge.
In the words of Meg Ragonese, NDOT public information officer, “It’s something we are acutely attuned to.”
But it’s not at the head of the line. First up is the massive rebuild of the I-80/I-580 Spaghetti Bowl interchange in Reno. Built in the 1970s and woefully inadequate now, there’s no question that project, expected to take many years, is the biggest challenge motorists (read: business commuters) currently face.
But even so, the Sparks-to-TRI corridor is getting some attention. NDOT has already widened the I-80 east offramp to USA Parkway to two lanes and plans to do the same on the westbound offramp. Additionally, NDOT is conducting an environmental review of potential improvements on the route.
A more formidable solution, but on the longer-range map, would add a third lane in both directions to I-80 from east of Sparks to USA Parkway.
NDOT has already concluded phase one of its I-80 transit study and is embracing information from sectors including private employers for such options as van pooling, something some TRI businesses already do.
At this point, nothing is off the table, as this early on, costs are not in the mix. Discussions among NDOT, the Regional Transportation Commission and others include everything from building entirely new roads, a challenge given the mountainous terrain, to launching commuter rail service along the existing Union Pacific rail line that follows I-80 to Fernley and beyond.
Bill O’Driscoll is a Reno-based freelance writer.