Midtown Reno road construction: Business, travel challenges a necessary reality as second phase nears
Rob Sabo | Special to the NNBV
RENO, Nev. — No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be a tough summer for Midtown businesses and their patrons.
The second half of the Regional Transportation Commission’s ambitious plan to improve transportation and pedestrian safety on Virginia Street through the Midtown corridor, as well as increase connectivity from the University of Nevada, Reno to Midtown, begins this June.
And as much as the initial phase of the project — upgrading aging underground utilities infrastructure — proved disruptive, the biggest logistical challenges are yet to come.
Work starts at Plumb Lane and moves north toward Liberty Street. Along the way of the 1.2-mile project, nearly every business in the vibrant and well-visited corridor will be impacted at some point during the construction process.
“This next part is going to be very invasive,” says RTC Public Affairs Manager Michael Moreno. “We are letting people know that it is going to be impactful — that’s why it’s more important than ever to support the Midtown businesses. We can’t underscore enough how much different this next part of construction will be, and we want everyone to be successful. The best way to do that is to continue going to Midtown during and after construction.
“The community wants this project. The end result will be something we all can be proud of and will make Midtown even more successful.”
To ease travel and parking into the Midtown area, the RTC partnered with Lyft to provide 50 percent discounted Lyfts into Midtown up to $10.
The aesthetics of the new Virginia Street will be sweeping. Much like the RTC’s plan to facilitate safer transportation through the Fourth Street corridor, the Midtown project adds much-needed sidewalks to make the area more pedestrian and transportation friendly.
Roughly 32,000 tons of new asphalt and 8,000 cubic yards of concrete for new sidewalks will be laid. Additionally, a total of 237 trees will be placed along the corridor in part to provide a buffer between pedestrians and vehicles.
Trees will be placed in a unique suspended cell system that’s basically a network of stilts to support concrete sidewalks, yet give the roots ample opportunity to grow downward into mulched soil.
Safety plays a key role in the renovation work. The larger sidewalks take pedestrians out of harm’s way, says Lee Gibson, RTC executive director.
“(Pedestrians) can walk through the corridor … and they won’t have to worry about getting (hit) by a car,” Gibson says. “An elderly person in a wheelchair will be able to move down the corridor safely and effectively. There will be shade and places to sit. It will be much better for our citizens and for businesses, and it will address a lot of frustrations that have been communicated to us throughout the years and during the planning process.”
A traffic-calming roundabout will be installed at Virginia and Mary streets as well.
‘No one business is the same’
About 60 to 70 tradesmen will be working at the site, says Dan LeBlanc, project manager for general contractor Sierra Nevada Construction. Initial construction work will focus on side street improvements, followed by front door to roadway centerline reconstruction and improvements, Gibson notes.
“If you have a door that opens up (to Virginia Street), you will have a piece of plywood (boardwalk) for a period of time,” Gibson says. “There will be some challenges with respect to access to businesses. The side street strategy is to get things set up in the beginning so people can still access the business area via those side streets.”
Where possible, business access through side streets will be maintained so that when work comes down the Virginia Street mainline, affected businesses can remain open, LeBlanc says.
“A lot of those businesses, access is directly off of Virginia Street, and most everyone’s sidewalk is coming out,” LeBlanc says. “We are going to use boardwalks for businesses that only have one-point access off Virginia Street or side streets, which allows us to have connectivity to upgrade infrastructure and still put pedestrians in those areas.
“We are balancing the impacts of construction and the (mentality) of getting it done as fast as possible with the (needs) of the businesses,” LeBlanc adds. “It’s going to be impactful; we are not making that a secret. But this team has done a great job of communicating with (businesses) and working with them on an individual basis.
“No one business is the same, and we’ve looked at each business to see how we will work with them and meet their needs.
Looking ahead to 2020
What’s unique about Midtown, LeBlanc notes, is that it’s not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. corridor. Businesses such as Two Chicks restaurant are open during the day, while bars and pubs in the area are open into the early morning.
Construction crews are expected to vary their work shifts from the traditional 7 a.m. start to best accommodate the needs of affected businesses.
There’s simply no easy way to pull off this project, says Brian Stewart, RTC’s director of engineering. The RTC implemented a 24-hour project hotline (775-300-1848) so businesses in affected areas have direct access to project managers in case they need assistance.
“If you have an issue, you will be able to get a hold of Dan or one of his crew and they will be able to help you,” Stewart says.
The Midtown work is expected to wrap up at the end of 2020. The Virginia Street project also includes improvements in the university area, including the addition of a bus rapid transit hub between 8th and 9th streets and a roundabout at 15th Street to facilitate easy turnaround for buses heading to Midtown.
Three new Rapid Stations will be installed in the Midtown area. The raised stations reduce the time it takes riders to get on and off the bus. Two electric buses will be added to the RTC’s fleet when it opens the Rapid Virginia Line extension to the university.
The northern end of the job is expected to start in the spring/summer of next year and finish at the end of next year as well. The nearly $80 million project is funded through the RTC Fuel Tax and a $40.4 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
Rob Sabo is a Reno-based freelance writer and former reporter for the Northern Nevada Business View.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.