Where are all the cars coming from? Highway 395 commute getting longer
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — No one driving Highway 395 should be surprised to learn that the stretch from Mica Drive north to the Douglas/Carson county line is the busiest in Douglas County.
According to the last traffic count conducted by the Nevada Department of Transportation, there are 39,500 vehicle trips a day using the highway between Jacks Valley and Mica Drive. That’s up from 26,500 vehicle trips at the same spot in 2012, during the Great Recession.
For most Douglas County residents, the traffic on Highway 395 is the surest and most annoying barometer of the county’s growth.
One commuter said it takes her 40 minutes to get from her home in the north Valley to her work in downtown Carson City on a daily basis.
Employment is one factor that has increased traffic on Douglas County’s roads over the past seven years. In the wake of the Recession in 2013, there were 19,920 employed Douglas residents, compared to 22,922 in July 2019.
An estimated 57 percent of Douglas residents leave the county to work, and most of them use Highway 395, according to a consultant working on the towns Plan for Prosperity. Consultant Bruce Race said 54 percent of those working in the county are coming from outside.
Voter registration is also way up in Douglas County, with the number hitting 39,780 in August, according to the Clerk-Treasurer’s office.
That’s up nearly 2,000 from August 2018 when the number was 37,825. There were 32,493 registered voters in August 2013, according to the clerk.
On the other hand, both the U.S. Census Bureau and the Nevada State Demographer estimate that the county is home to around 49,000 people.
The Census estimate for the county for July 1, 2018, was 48,467. That’s up from the 46,997 people actually counted in 2010.
The State Demographer estimated the county population at 49,277 this year, up from 48,015 in 2012.
Other indicators show both those numbers may turn out to be short of the county’s actual population when the big reveal comes late next year.
In preparation for the Census, Douglas County has formed a Complete County Committee that drew 16 volunteers to help educate residents about the importance of participating in the count, that occurs every 10 years.
The last two weeks have seen discussion of the county’s future growth as part of the 20-year update of the 1996 master plan.
While Douglas County implemented a 2-percent growth cap in 2007, the Recession ensured no one has ever been denied a building permit as a result of the cap.
County and planning commissioners heard a report on the number of building permits issued in the county over the past dozen years.
Under the growth cap law, any single family allocations not used roll over into the next year. In the last seven years, that has resulted in a pool of 1,700 homes.
Not all of those are available to subdivisions, with 1,074 reserved for individual permits and 626 for housing projects.
Complicating the issue are projects already approved that are not subject to the allocation program called for under the growth cap.
In 2018, 235 residential building permits were issued while only 107 of the housing allocations were expended.
The number of single-family permits issued over the past six years have steadily increased from 107 in 2013 to 235 in 2018. In all 996, permits were issued during that time.
According to the county, 2019 may be seeing a slight slowdown with 84 single-family permits sought as of July 1. According to the county web site, an additional 42 permits have been sought since July 1. According to the U.S. Census, Douglas County has roughly 2.3 people per dwelling.
Community Development Director Tom Dallaire said those projects should expire by 2030, making all projects subject to the growth cap.
Two decades ago, the Nevada Department of Transportation prepared a plan that envisioned 84,000 people would be living in Douglas County by 2020.
The Western Nevada Transportation Study took its estimates from the Nevada Demographer’s Office, which forecast that Douglas’ population would be higher than that in Carson City or Lyon County, something that never happened.
When the study was prepared, there were more than 6,000 people working at the Stateline casinos.
Those 20 years have seen a lot of changes, including the effects of the Great Recession and increased competition from Native American casinos.
For much of its history, Douglas County grew at a snail’s pace, if at all. The county’s population was 2,029 people, according to the 1950 Census, rising to 3,481 people in 1960. Then the number of people nearly doubled in 1970 to 6,882, and nearly tripled to 19,921 in 1980.
The cancelation of the 2020 event “severely affected operating revenue,” according to the Great Reno Balloon Race.