FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL, its a maze of orange barrels, flashing
signs telling you to merge left or merge right, and stiff canyons of sound walls
that bounce your curses back at you. Its flaggers and detours and torn
up roads and green lights that turn yellow too soon or stay red when you are
the only car sitting at the intersection.
None of it makes sense.
From space, though, its different. You can see where the cars go, where
the flow of vehicles gets pinched off and where the brake lights back up like
a line of angry bees. You can see where the red lights glow too long, where
a new road might make some sense.
Up here, it all seems so simple.
You can see where the bridges are being built. You can see the vague lines
etched in dirt where a new road will go. You can see where a string of roads
is widening to a ribbon.
You can see where people should walk instead of drive, where bikes have a nice,
tight right-hand route all their own. People park and ride, and buses glide
along a spacious avenue. Theres an order to it. Its smooth. Everybodys
That birds eye view is what traffic planners in the Truckee Meadows and
beyond are trying to take. Although our commutes are shorter and the congestion
on our roads is less than other metropolitan areas, the planners know all that
can change pretty fast. You put one more car on a road that is running at its
capacity and boom! everything is at a standstill.
And were starting to run into that problem, says Greg Krause,
executive director of the Regional Transportation Commission. Its
not like we can go out and fix problems in a year or two. Thats why we
have to plan ahead.
To say state and regional transportation planners are just trying to stay one
step ahead of a traffic jam doesnt do their work justice. They are planning
basic projects such as road extensions (they soon will begin construction of
a 2.2-mile continuation of Moana Lane east that will take up to 18 months to
finish) and road widening (the McCarran Boulevard ring road is getting thicker
all the time). Also, there will be mass-transit improvements, such as letting
bus drivers on South Virginia Street electronically extend a green light when
they are running behind schedule something they should be capable of
doing by the end of this year, Krause said.
Interstate 80, under the auspices of the Nevada Department of Transportation,
is being widened from Keystone Avenue to North McCarran Boulevard to give trucks
their own lane to labor in and letting everybody else scamper by. Theyll
get their first chance to do that in early 2006.
And, of course, there is the NDOTs infamous Spaghetti Bowl improvement
project, which is upgrading a 1970s-era cloverleaf to make room for the commuter
traffic streaming in from the growing community in all directions. That project
will be completed in December of this year.
But these projects although costly and time-consuming are somewhat
routine. They are the kind of projects you have to do when a community is growing
and more and more people are trying to get to their jobs on time.
Whats in store for people trying to get around the Truckee Meadows in
the next 25 years is much more dramatic. Regional planners with the RTC and
state planners with the NDOT, which oversees state and federal highway projects,
already have started work on several innovative projects that will fundamentally
change the way you move around.
Transit of the future
Within eight to 10 years, a $40 million rapid bus transit system will run the
length of South Virginia Street in a designated lane from the University of
Nevada, Reno to Mount Rose Highway. This wont be any ordinary bus route.
It will have its own lane, elevated platforms, and automatic doors, and it will
make the trip in a fraction of the time it takes to drive it. Although the system
still is in the planning stages, RTC executives already have started socking
away money for it. When the line is operating, officials hope to see a rebirth
of retail business along Renos main corridor as more and more shoppers
and commuters find the speedy bus route to be the most practical way of getting
around the area.
New transit centers in Reno and Sparks, scheduled for completion by 2008, will
be designed as the home bases for the existing Citifare bus system. They will
be much larger than the existing transit center in Reno and will include retail
services and other amenities, such as day care centers. Picture it: commuters
will be able to drop off their kids, get a cup of coffee, and know precisely
to the minute when their bus will arrive to carry them to work. At the end of
the day, theyll be able to stop off at the grocery store to pick up milk
or vegetables or some chicken for dinner. It all will be there for them.
We have to make transit more attractive to get more people to use it,
Krause says. These kinds of transit centers that have retail services
and day care either incorporated into the project or adjacent to it have been
a great success in other cities and we think it will work here, too.
The RTC has almost completed right-of-way property acquisitions in Sparks
and hopes to start building the transit center there this fall. Property acquisition
in Reno is more complicated, so that project isnt expected to start until
The train trench will be completed (in November this year) and traffic will
be able to flow smoothly instead of waiting while the engines roll through town.
But you probably already knew about that. What you may not know is money has
been set aside for a new two-block plaza over the top of the trench downtown.
Planners havent decided yet where to locate the plaza, but as redevelopment
downtown continues, you can expect to see improvements to the roads, sidewalks,
and crosswalks that will make downtown friendlier to people on foot.
High-density housing downtown already is being designed to make the decision
to go without a car easier for many residents. Reno and Sparks citizens may
some day find they have something in common with San Franciscans, who often
find it easier to park their cars and just ride the bus. Sparks already has
a housing project planned adjacent to the site of its transit center.
Bicyclists in mind
Its not all about cars and buses, either. All new surface streets are
being built with bike lanes, and the RTC is working wherever possible to connect
existing bike lanes. There is a complex web of disconnected bike lanes and bike
routes throughout the Truckee Meadows, and Krause says RTCs goal is to
connect them when an existing street comes up for improvements. For instance,
although Wells Avenue was reduced in many places from four lanes to two, traffic
moves smoother than before and cyclists have their own lane of travel. Whats
more, pedestrians dont have to risk their lives to cross the street.
City planners in both Reno and Sparks say when new developments are proposed
such as in Spanish Springs Valley, Damonte Ranch, Somersett, and Verdi
master plans always include trails for hikers and cyclists. City planners
also work to ensure new trails are linked. City of Reno planners this year also
are working to extend the Truckee River bike path through downtown, with 95
percent of the $602,000 project coming from the federal government.
There also is an effort under way to connect all segments of the Truckee River
bike path to make a continuous path from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. The 116-mile
Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway effort has become an official project of the Nevada Land
Conservancy, making donations tax-deductible. (See story on page 86.)
Local transportation planners also are looking at a big expansion of the areas
Intelligent Transportation System network. An ITS allows better coordination
of traffic signals so when cars start to queue up behind a red light, adjustments
automatically are made to more equitably distribute the green.
An ITS system also includes electronic lights on highways to warn of upcoming
delays. In addition, the system offers variable speed limit signs triggered
by up-to-the-minute changes in road conditions or visibility, ice warning signs
automatically activated by pavement sensors and closed circuit TV cameras and
Web cameras to allow drivers to check traffic flow before leaving work.
The RTC, for example, recently installed four real time Web cams
(rtcwashoe.com) at its Highway
395/Clear Acre interchange that lets drivers check traffic flow and the progress
of construction on that $35 million project.
Many other innovations already are in scattered use around the area. There
are cameras deployed over traffic signals at a handful of intersections in Reno
monitoring traffic queues, for instance. RTCs Citifare buses already are
tracked by satellite. And message boards over I-80 alert westbound drivers about
upcoming chain restrictions, mandatory truck inspections, and other warnings,
such as when a deer herd is migrating and drivers need to be aware that animals
may be bounding across the road. But expect to see more of these innovations
as engineers work out the bugs and better products come on the market.
RTCs public information officer Jim McGrath says one day the area will
have a traffic control center that will use computers to monitor
traffic flow and allow workers in the center to make adjustments to traffic
lights to keep cars moving freely. There is no specific timeframe or cost on
the books yet, but McGrath says ITS makes sense.
Its one of the most cost-efficient ways to manage congestion better,
he says. It doesnt always make sense to expand roads or build new
ones. Roads are expensive to build and not everyone wants one in their back
Still, there are signs Nevada is having trouble keeping up with its own growth.
A report released last year concluded the state needs $10 billion in road improvements
in the next decade and only has plans for about $7 billion in projects. Traffic
density in Reno increased 48 percent between 1992 and 2003 a faster rate
than Las Vegas. NDOT is responding by putting $650 million in projects out to
bid this year alone.
Some of that road building carries exciting possibilities. For instance, by
2010 the state should finish its Carson City freeway, a highway that will reduce
the drive through the city from the 20 minutes or more it takes now to about
seven minutes. A key link to that highway from Reno is the $280-million I-580
extension linking Mount Rose Highway to Washoe Valley. Crews already are building
the four bridges needed to circle Pleasant Valley and work on the 8.5 miles
of highway will start this year. That stretch will take several years to complete.
In addition, the RTC is planning a $33-million interchange at Meadowood Mall
to help shoppers get into stores and back on the highway faster. There is no
timetable for completing the project, but it likely will take several years
about as long as it takes to get through that intersection at McCarran
and South Virginia around Christmas time.
The biggest piece of the puzzle and the key, many experts believe, to
keeping traffic moving is a southeast connector road. The road, also
known as the Tahoe-Pyramid Link, would connect southeast Reno with Sparks and
will be considered crucial by 2030 when the valleys population is expected
to be 560,000. But a route acceptable to everyone has yet to be found. The inexpensive
($211 million) angers residents near Rosewood Lakes, and the expensive route
($1 billion, which would go up into the Virginia Range) is, well, really expensive.
Is it worth the cost? Well, if you take the birds eye view, it is.
Its pretty simple, Krause says. If the community decides
not to build roads, we will be looking at longer commute times, more congestion,
and more air pollution. Its very important that we keep our cars moving.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LOCAL TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS, VISIT RTC2030UPDATE.COM,