Amid COVID’s continuing closures, crews are fast-tracking construction on $87 million Virginia St. project
Special to the NNBW
RENO, Nev. — The economic shutdown has hobbled retailers throughout the Truckee Meadows, but Midtown shopkeepers and restaurateurs have been hit with a double whammy.
The coronavirus shutdown, combined with road closures and lane restrictions due to ongoing construction operations from the Regional Transportation Commission’s $87 million Virginia Street Project, has many Midtown retailers reeling.
But there’s also a bit of a silver lining: RTC and general contractor Sierra Nevada Construction capitalized on the statewide economic shutdown to close parts of Virginia Street and fast-track work that shaved weeks off the overall construction timeline.
When the shutdown ends, many Midtown retailers will be able to welcome back patrons without the hassle of heavy equipment, temporary plywood boardwalks and other inconveniences.
Sabri Arslankara, owner of Pizzava at 1043 S. Virginia St., opened his doors in 2018 before construction started on the expansive revitalization project that’s impacted Midtown retail traffic for more than a year now.
Arslankara says Midtown retailers have done their best to adapt during the shutdown.
“It’s stressful, but we are still operating and doing fine,” he says. “We have a lot of customers we are serving, and we are trying to give back to the community at the same time. It’s hard, but hopefully it’s over soon.”
Pizzava last week delivered 270 pizzas free of charge to feed the entire staff of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center. Arslankara says that when he was first approached by the RTC and SNC regarding total closure of Virginia Street he was a bit apprehensive, but the closure ultimately was the logical choice.
“It was scary, but most places are shut down and there’s not a lot of foot or (vehicle) traffic. I’m excited they are going to be done earlier,” Arslankara says. “Storage for the construction teams is right across the street from Pizzava, so we still have a good amount of construction machinery in front of the store, but they finished (work) in front of us, and by the time the ban is lifted the whole street will be beautiful. I am glad they came up with this plan.”
During the initial phase of the Midtown project, SNC upgraded aging underground utilities. The next phase called for replacing the roadway and sidewalks from Plumb Lane to Liberty Street.
That work was scheduled to stretch well into this summer, but SNC and the RTC ramped up construction schedules due to severely reduced traffic through the project parameters because of the business shutdown.
Road work is being done in stages, and the stage from Mt. Rose Street to Center Street was originally scheduled to be completed in June. Instead, SNC finished the work in mid April.
Dan LeBlanc, project manager for Sierra Nevada Construction, says some Midtown retailers were reluctant when the Virginia Street shutdown was proposed, but after explaining the benefits of project acceleration, Midtown retailers overwhelmingly bought in.
SNC brought in two additional crews and ramped up work schedules to 10 hours a day, six days a week to fast-track the work. One-way southbound traffic in that section resumed on April 15.
“What would have taken us three months to do, we did in a period of about three weeks,” LeBlanc says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done — we have to raise utilities, there’s landscaping and electrical work, but the high-impact work and truck traffic is now done. When Midtown is ready to thrive again; we won’t be holding them back.”
Lauren Ball, RTC public information officer, says RTC and SNC moved quickly to accelerate construction once Governor Sisolak issued the directive to close all non-essential businesses. The ramp-up required fast communication with local governments, Midtown business owners and strategic construction-operations planning, Ball adds.
“The overall construction timeline is significantly shortened by approximately four to five weeks in the segments RTC and SNC are able to fast track,” she says. “When it’s time for businesses to reopen, they can look forward to having fewer impactful construction operations outside their front doors. Businesses will be able to welcome customers back with wider sidewalks, new pavement, improved safety, and new aesthetic and landscaping improvements.”
With the business shutdown extending through the end of April, SNC is moving on to repaving both lanes of Virginia Street from Center Street north to St. Lawrence Avenue. At the same time, crews will be performing concrete, electrical and irrigation work from Center Street to the project’s terminus at Liberty Street.
That part of the job is expected to be finished by mid May, LeBlanc says. While that constitutes the bulk of the project, there’s still a lot of work left, he adds. More than 235 trees and shrubs will be planted from Plumb to Liberty, as well as installation of new street signal poles and other finish work. The project should be completed in its entirety by August, LeBlanc says.
SNC is spending a lot of time ensuring its workers stay safe from the coronavirus, LeBlanc adds.
“We want to do this for the businesses here, but we want to make sure our guys and gals are working in a safe environment, he says. “That includes masks, social distancing, sanitizers and wiping down equipment. We are spending a tremendous amount of time and energy to provide a safe working environment for our employees during this acceleration. It’s been quite the operation.”
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.