The road ahead
Construction continues on Virginia Street
On Friday, Jan. 3, the Regional Transportation Commission held a “Coffee with the Construction Crew” public outreach event in conjunction with the companies working on the Virginia Street RAPID Extension Project ahead of a new phase in the project that will remake several miles of Virginia Street between midtown and the University of Nevada, Reno.
The public was invited to join officials from RTC, Sierra Nevada Construction and its construction management consultancy team, Atkins, at Truckee Bagel Company—538 S. Virginia St.—for coffee, food and the opportunity to ask questions about the project, which began construction in 2018.
“We just wanted it to be an informal event where people could stop by, grab some coffee, ask us their questions, get information,” said Lauren Ball, RTC public information officer.
Both business owners and residents turned up to the event—the majority of them with positive sentiments concerning the project and the public outreach RTC has done during it.
Jenes Carter—who took over ownership of Beautiful Nails, 1525 S. Virginia St., in September—said she came to the event to see what she could learn about the project in the hopes of spreading a positive message about it to others.
“I like being involved, especially now that I have my business, she said. “I’m in midtown, so I almost feel like it’s a responsibility. … And I think the more information I have the easier it is to help others navigate and feel more positive about the fact that when it’s done it’s going to be beautiful.”
Also at the event with the goal of gaining information to pass on to others was retiree Linda Young.
“I live in Carriage Stone Apartments … and we have a door that comes right out right onto the sidewalk,” Young said. “I’m a driver and a walker, and the streets have always been congested and also hard to walk on. … And, you know, people turn their ankles a lot and stuff like that. And in the building where I am, the seniors all grumbled at first [about the construction]. But each time we’re in a group, I tell them what’s coming up next and what the project is going to look like, and they all settle down.”
Young is also signed up to receive updates on the project via email and texts. According to Young, “If anybody doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s their own fault.”
Sinclair Street resident David Pritchett came to the event with plenty of questions, asking after bus routes and stops and about public arts funding. He inquired whether or not the City of Reno’s two-percent-for-art-ordinance was paying for art installations associated with the project. (The ordinance specifies that two percent of the funding of any new construction or renovation by the city has to be set aside for public art.) In this case, Ball explained, the two percent ordinance doesn’t apply, as the project’s funding comes from an RTC Fuel Tax, the Federal Highway Administration and a Federal Transit Administration grant—not the City of Reno. Nonetheless, art will be a part of the project—including a large sculptural piece to be placed in the center of a roundabout at the intersection of Virginia, Mary and Center Streets.
“I think the RTC has offered exceptionally good public outreach,” Pritchett said. “I also perceive that the Virginia Street business community still does not get enough. Just yesterday, I was swapping notes with a friend who called this a ’make work’ project. So I challenged his allegation on that. … I think a lot of people who are not engaged do not appreciate how drastically improved the street corridor, the street-scape will be.”
Pritchett and a few others also asked after and commented on the lack of a dedicated bike lane on Virginia Street.
“During the middle of the planning process a few years ago, I advocated with other public participants to maintain the bicycle lane dedicated all the way up to Liberty Street,” Pritchett said. “It’s exceedingly disappointing that got cut by the RTC board and the Reno City Council.”
According to SNC superintendent Mitch Grayson, the decision to axe bike lanes on Virginia was a pragmatic and necessary one.
“So actually none of Virginia Street has a solely dedicated lane,” he said. “It’s all, because of the narrowness of it—it’s shared a lot of the way. South of Mount Rose, it’s shared with the bus lane. North of Mount Rose, it’s in the main travel lane, shared with vehicles.”
Other concerns raised during the event included the placement of landscaping and trees, some 250 of which are expected to be planted as a part of the project—and how this will affect sidewalk size in the area.
“The existing sidewalk in some places on Virginia Street in our project area are only 18 inches wide, so that’s not wide enough for a wheelchair or a stroller or even if you’re just walking with a group of people—that’s not wide enough,” Ball said, explaining that it’s actually the sidewalks that construction crews will be working on most during the coming months.
“They do plan to do a lot of concrete work during the winter,” she said. “That’s easier to do during colder temperatures. Warmer temperatures are needed for things like paving. So you won’t see any paving again until probably spring, when temperatures warm up.”
George Jordy, the Atkins senior engineer overseeing the project, assured that come spring when new sidewalks are completed, they will all be much more than 18 inches wide.
“We have to have a minimum of four feet,” he explained. “The new stuff is a minimum of four feet from any solid object. … And three-foot-eleven won’t work. We had one at three-foot-eleven, and we made them move it.”
Visitors to midtown this week will have noticed that the construction has also moved farther north. As of press time, Virginia Street was open only to southbound traffic between Cheney and Vassar Streets. Beginning in mid-January, the road will only be open to southbound traffic started at Stewart Street and continuing down to Vassar.
Construction is expected to be completed in the winter of 2020. In the meantime, RTC is pushing the message that midtown is still accessible.
“If the sidewalk is gone, we install boardwalks, so you’re able to walk on the boardwalk to access businesses,” said Ball. “Parking is still available. You can ride the bus down here. You can ride your bike. You can walk. These businesses really need your support, and it’s really easy to get down here—even though there are a few more cones than usual.”