Freeway change coming
Information meetings needed more information
“So what did you think, John?” asked one person after a public meeting at Sparks City Hall last week.
His friend responded, “Widening 80 in Sparks is a good idea.”
Another audience member came away with the same reaction: “Getting back to four lanes—that’s excellent.”
Officialdom is seeking public reaction on the environmental implications of a “Spaghetti Bowl Project,” but finding out what that project is may not be easy.
Two public meetings were held at Traner Middle School and Sparks City Hall. Postcards were mailed to locals about the meetings, but the post cards never said what the project is. It was headlined “SPAGHETTI BOWL PROJECT/ Preliminary Design Update.” However, neither project nor designs were described. Rather, the postcard had vague references to “upgrade of the area’s freeway systems” and “preliminary alternative designs.”
Material handed out at the meetings was similarly worded. Goals for the project included non-specific items like this: “Long Term Relief: Develop ultimate project to meet 2040 demands. … Right-of-Way: Minimize displacements. … Safety: Prioritize project based on eliminating /reducing high accident areas. … Operations: Create interchange system fully functional and easily navigable within project limits.” This verbiage was repeated twice in one handout, but repeating it did not make it more intelligible.
Display matter at the meetings was relatively primitive, given that this is 2017. The one-dimensional, multi-color flats might have been used in the 1970s. What information could be discerned from the presentations—such as references to braided ramps and multi-levels—cried out for animations, but none were available.
One fact that emerged that pleased participants was that part of the project will be widening of the Nugget bottleneck, which has been a local grievance for many years. Interstate 80 narrows as it passes through downtown Sparks, and this became known as the Nugget bottleneck. That made clear that the “Spaghetti Bowl Project” involved much more than the Spaghetti Bowl, but also made it that much more frustrating to figure out what it does involve.
“I asked some questions, but I didn’t want to sound stupid,” one person told us. “I wanted more from the displays and the handouts than I got.”
Not asking questions at the meetings may have been self-defeating, but it was common. After Nevada Department of Transportation spokespeople made their presentations at the Sparks meeting, they threw it open to questions and got none.
The Spaghetti Bowl was constructed between 1969 and 1971. A major renovation would likely have similar lengthy impact, but no one at the meeting asked about how the impact would be minimized.
NDOT held the meetings not to get reaction to the project itself but to make the public aware of the environmental impact statement that will precede the project. That alone will take more than three years.
“The point of this is, we’re still years away from construction,” said NDOT spokesperson Nick Johnson, the project director, at the Sparks City Hall meeting.
But it is difficult to react to environmental concerns without knowing what the project is.
One community that is concerned about the impact of the project is the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, adjacent to the Spaghetti Bowl. A statement from Colony Chair Arlan Melendez appears on the colony website:
“For over 100 years, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony has worked to improve the quality of life for its Tribal members and to develop a self-sufficient economy. Our tribal members rely on the East Second Street and Glendale Avenue interchange to access their homes and to obtain government and health care services. …The East Second Street, Glendale Avenue interchange provides critical access for customers visiting tribal enterprises and businesses like our smoke shops and Walmart at Three Nations Plaza. Any temporary disruption for businesses during construction activities will negatively impact our tribal government revenues.”
The handout did say the project runs on I-80 from Sierra to Pyramid Highway and on 395 from North McCarran Boulevard to Moana Lane.
A website at http://ndotspaghettibowl.com contains more information: “The Reno-Sparks area is experiencing dramatic population increases. Washoe County is expected to see an increase of over 147,000 people over the next 20 years. The area is seeing a welcome influx of more commercial and industrial enterprises. The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), in preparation for continued population growth, is improving portions along Interstate 80, Interstate 580, and U.S. 395, with particular attention to the I-80/I-580 Interchange, also known as the Spaghetti Bowl.
“In addition to these improvements, future traffic projections will be analyzed and infrastructure needs will be identified to take the Reno-Sparks area through the year 2040. Spaghetti Bowl improvements include short-, mid- and long-range projects. NDOT has put plans in place to add more freeway digital message signs advising drivers of upcoming traffic conditions near the Spaghetti Bowl. Long-range projects may include the widening of the freeway and interchange ramps to accommodate increased traffic volumes.”
But this does not make it much easier for the public to get an idea of the environmental impact.
We attempted without success to reach Johnson for more elaboration.
Freeways in the Truckee Meadows are often sources of suspicion, given local history. Besides the Nugget bottleneck, the southern route of the 395 expansion was changed to accommodate some affluent residents in the 1980s. At Huffaker Lane, it suddenly heads east, missing the homes of the wealthy in the southwest, and then returns to its former trajectory after the Mt. Rose Highway.
If the vagueness in the project materials was intended to keep the project below the radar, it worked. Several local media outlets ran notices of the informational meetings but did not cover the meetings themselves.