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Commuting nightmares?

NNBW Staff
Proposed changes along Pyramid Highway to accommate future growth in the region.
Courtesy Regional Transportation Commission |

Drivers suffering through the nightmare that can be commuting on Pyramid Highway note that relief looms on the (distant) horizon.

Just don’t get your hopes up anytime soon.

The Regional Transportation Commission expects a record of decision this year on an environmental impact study for a new 12-mile expressway that would link Pyramid Highway with U.S. 395. The 395 Connector project would alleviate between 50,000 and 60,000 vehicle trips per day on Pyramid Highway south of Los Altos Boulevard.

Doug Maloy, RTC project manager, says the 395 Connector project is in very early preliminary stages, and the Regional Transportation Commission also must gauge its priorities — widening U.S. 395 and improving capacity at the Spaghetti Bowl are primary concerns for the RTC’s long-range transportation plans.

Cost of the project also is a huge factor — price tag for the 395 Connector is modeled between $600 and $700 million.

But it would be a boon for commuters who regularly travel on Pyramid Highway. The project would greatly benefit the flow of traffic in two ways. First, it would pick up where the current improvements planned for Pyramid Way end at Queen Way and improve the highway all the way to Calle De La Plata. Travel would be three lanes in both directions to Eagle Canyon Drive, where it would drop down to its current configuration of two lanes each way.

Second, it would provide an alternative route to alleviate thousands of cars each day that have to travel to Pyramid and McCarran Boulevard to get to warehouse jobs in North Valleys, Lemmon Valleys and Stead. Anyone who has made that drive in the morning or evening hours knows how arduous it can be to get through that area.

Regardless of the hefty price tag for the entire project, Maloy says some of the improvements to Pyramid Highway likely will be constructed over time.

“We feel the improvements may not be absolutely necessary now, but as we get approvals going forward we will probably phase in some of those improvements,” he says.

The main component of the project would funnel traffic away from the dreaded Pyramid/McCarran interchange via an expressway that starts just south of Sparks Boulevard and terminates near the existing Dandini/Parr Boulevard interchange.

Of the four alternatives discussed for the project, RTC settled on a four-lane “ridge” alignment. The connector begins just south of Sparks Boulevard and heads west along the mountain ridgeline before dropping into Sun Valley. The access point on Pyramid will have a separate connection that drops in just like a freeway access

Once in Sun Valley, RTC has two design choices and prefers a “Southern Crossing,” since it would have to acquire fewer properties, though it still would have to acquire between 40 to 50 properties to make room for the new arterial roadway, Maloy says.

“If it gets approved, then we would go through the process of determining what properties would be acquired. But we are very preliminary; we are not looking to acquire property any time soon,” he adds.

The 395 connector would run 500 feet north of El Rancho Boulevard where it intersects with Dandini Boulevard to minimize impact on what Maloy calls the “narrowest” point of Sun Valley.

There would be an interchange between Sun Valley and Desert Research Institute to provide access to Sun Valley Boulevard or DRI, and lastly, the existing interchange at 395 and Dandini Boulevard would be reconfigured to better handle the heavier flow of traffic.

It’s a big project, but the 395 connector would serve the ever-growing North Valleys job base, which has seen a big bump in industrial development during the past few years, and modest increases in new housing development. Amazon’s move from Fernley to Logisticenter 395 just off Lemmon Drive is a prime example of the north region’s burgeoning employment base, and there are more employers to come as new industrial projects come online.

“It’s a connection between North Valleys and the Spanish Springs area,” Maloy says. There is a lot of employment and housing development in both areas; both are pretty high-growth areas.

“It essentially takes traffic from going further south on Pyramid and having to use McCarran or going even further south to (Interstate) 80. It provides a direct route. The 395 expressway could get you there quicker, and you don’t have to stop.”

It also provides some much-needed safety improvements to Pyramid Highway, such as concrete medians and additional traffic capacity, says Michael Moreno, RTC public affairs administrator.

“We look at our transportation system in the Truckee Meadows as a whole, and each part is a piece of the puzzle,” Moreno says. “This project would help create efficiencies not only in the Spanish Springs area, but it would also alleviate stress on the entire transportation network; it all works together.”

To date, funds to build the project have not been identified, Moreno notes. The RTC board currently is updating its 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and determining the most important needs for the region. Once the plan is complete, Moreno says, the RTC will prioritize its transportation projects and begin finding the necessary funding.