Unless you truly haven’t ventured out of your driveway since the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, you’ve surely noticed the Reno-Sparks Spaghetti Bowl is in the early stages of its years-long makeover. That’s especially true if your commute involves merging from eastbound I-80 onto southbound I-580. There, crews have been breaking up concrete, moving earth and spreading asphalt to reconstruct and widen the ramps as part of the Spaghetti Bowl Xpress project. Breaking ground in August 2020, the Xpress project is the first of five phases of the massive I-80/I-580 interchange overhaul that’s being overseen by the Nevada Department of Transportation. The entire overhaul is expected to run through 2039. “There are a lot of locations within the freeway system where you see bottlenecks, and especially that eastbound I-80 to southbound I-580 you see every day gets backed up,” Nick Johnson, chief of project management at NDOT, told the NNBW in early April. “And it’s one of the higher crash locations within the overall Spaghetti Bowl area. I think it’s really critical that we not only keep the vehicles moving through there, but really to improve the safety.” Every day, more than 260,000 drivers snake through the intersection, which is the busiest interchange in Northern Nevada, according to NDOT. So busy, in fact, that in 2015 there were approximately three crashes per day in the Spaghetti Bowl area, with nearly one injury crash per day and eight fatal crashes in a five-year period, according to the department. And with the Reno-Sparks population expected to swell 27%, or about 147,000 people, by 2040, the amount congestion and crashes would only rise without future improvements to the interchange. All told, travel delays would surge 53% through the Spaghetti Bowl by 2040 if there were no overhauls, NDOT says. “The Spaghetti Bowl itself is a very critical element in this growing region of Truckee Meadows,” said Sajid Sulahria, senior project manager at NDOT. “The department is dedicating more than $2 billion to reconstruct parts of the Spaghetti Bowl that equates to about roughly 12 miles. If you are passing through town or work in the town, you will go through one of these legs or one of these segments. “I think from a commerce standpoint, personal commute (standpoint), and all the businesses, this is essential.” To that end, NDOT spokesperson Meg Ragonese pointed to the fact that I-80 connects Reno with Sacramento, San Francisco and Salt Lake City and is designated as a federal and state “long-truck route.” “This positions the Spaghetti Bowl as a critical regional commercial and trucking interchange,” Ragonese said. “Increased travel delays through the heart of our metropolitan area would greatly impact delivery, manufacturing and other industries both locally and regionally. “By reducing congestion and enhancing safety, the improvements will provide additional mobility and reliability under which trucking, logistics and other economic development factors can thrive.” STAYING ON TRACK
Although the coronavirus pandemic caused project managers to quickly develop new strategies to stay on the track, construction of the Spaghetti Bowl Xpress has not slowed. “The project is right on schedule,” said Seth Alexander, project executive at Ames Construction, which is in a joint contract with Q&D Construction on the project. “We’ve had to do that, of course, by being very adaptive. Luckily, in this state, construction was deemed an essential industry, so we continue to work on this project through the pandemic, both on design and construction.” The only speed bumps early on, Alexander said, were tracking down the necessary personal protective equipment for the roughly 300 construction workers employed on the project, and following social distancing protocols while crews share tools, equipment and vehicles to reconstruct and build roadways. “Getting the PPE that was necessary for our employees to keep working and figuring out how to safely move people in vehicles and still comply with all the rules in effect — those were the biggest challenges,” Alexander said. “And they did seem very daunting at first. But, with groups of people working together, and a lot of experts helping guide us, we were able to meet all those requirements and keep our workers working every day.” To date, crews have reconstructed aging concrete on northbound I-580 near Mill Street. In addition, crews have six of the project’s seven new bridges under construction “in some shape or form,” said Alexander, noting the building of the remaining bridge will likely begin by May. As of mid-April, the Xpress project is roughly 20% complete, Sulahria said. According to NDOT, construction in 2021 will largely focus on reconstructing and widening the eastbound I-80 to I-580 ramp to two lanes. Crews will also work on realigning the Mill and Second streets ramps to improve access to and from southbound I-580. Additionally on southbound I-580, auxiliary merge lanes and improved ramps will be added between the Spaghetti Bowl and Plumb Lane. All the while, noise, visual and neighborhood walls will be built, and utility work will get underway. The first phase of construction will not require relocation of any residences, according to NDOT. “There’s a lot of work happening in 2021,” Alexander said. “And then in 2022, we’ll be finishing up the (Xpress) project, redoing the median of I-580, and completing at the landscape and aesthetic elements on the project.” Ragonese noted that the department is trying to limit impacts to commuters and businesses by implementing the majority of its ramp and lane closures to overnight hours. Go here for latest news, a full project timeline and other updates about the Spaghetti Bowl project.