Joined by other members of the Nevada Transportation board and local officials, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday termed redesign and reconstruction of the Reno Spaghetti Bowl as a top priority for the coming years.
“I don’t want to wait 18 months to find out what we already know: that the spaghetti bowl is oversubscribed,” said Sandoval.
NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon told the board they are studying the project and preparing a presentation on it at the January meeting and planning a presentation to the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County on Friday.
Reno council member Neoma Jardon, who chairs RTC, and Executive Director Lee Gibson both told the board the Spaghetti Bowl project is the area’s top priority.
But Sandoval questioned what exactly needs to be done there: “Does that need to be blown up and start again? Is improving it putting lipstick on a pig?”
Gibson said the 50-year-old interchange that ties Interstate 80 and Highway 395 together in the middle or Reno/Sparks was designed to meet needs that have grown dramatically. He said it would be a bad move to make compromise changes that don’t bring the interchange up to modern standards and needs.
“This is like a 1960s design and it’s just got to get fixed,” he said. “I want to try avoid 10 years from now having to do this all over again. We need to be realistic about what the impacts will be.”
He made it clear the challenges will not just be finding the money but the right-of-way battles.
“We’re going to have some very significant financial and legal challenges in front of us,” he said.
Jardon said the Spaghetti Bowl is such a priority for her that, “I have put it on every standing meeting agenda in the past two years.”
“The Spaghetti Bowl will be our top priority and also our top federal priority,” said Gibson.
In addition, the board grudgingly approved spending $14 million on a project to reduce the hazards caused by deer and elk trying to cross Interstate 80.
NDOT staff said there have been some 200 animal vs. vehicle accidents on the stretch of freeway near the Pequop Summit over the past five years. That stretch of the freeway straddles the annual migration route of the mule deer and elk living in eastern Nevada.
Board members questioned the cost of the project, originally estimated at just over $8 million saying it takes a significant chunk of the money NDOT has for safety projects — money that could be used to make things safer for pedestrians in both the north and southern Nevada.
“I would prefer to spend our money on our safety rather than deer safety,” said Member B.J. Almberg.
Sandoval too questioned the project saying there are many other safety needs in the state and only a limited pot of money to pay for them.
But NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon and members of his staff said the majority of the funding is federal money that would be lost if not used on this project or another that was ready to go this year. In addition, the board was told the project would lose $500,000 in Department of Wildlife money and have to repay the federal highway fund some $750,000 spent on design of the project.
The project would put up nearly six miles of fence to funnel deer and migrating elk to two bridges designed to get them safely across the four-lane freeway.
Faced with the potential loss of most of the money, the board voted to approve the project.