On a brisk, bluebird morning, people were milling about on the corners of Pyramid and North McCarran, taking advantage of the spacious sidewalks and pedestrian crossings of the newly expanded intersection and roadway. Cars are moving smoothly, it’s almost easy to forget that it was once a small highway that caused a lot of congestion, long waits, and frustration for the 60,000 commuters who navigated through Sparks.
Spending $73 million and 4-5 years in the making, public officials and community members gathered on Dec. 8 to celebrate the official grand opening of the new Pyramid/McCarran intersection. Several city and state officials came to the grand opening and shared their relief and thanks to the people who made the project possible.
“It’s a nice walk over to Starbucks now,” said Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Lee Gibson. “This is a celebration of the completion and improvement of traffic flow for all users in the Sparks community,” says Gibson. He went on to thank Sparks City Councilman Ron Smith for being a champion of the project and added that Smith made it “very clear on day two that he was going to get this done”.
He also mentioned that State Senator Julia Ratti was instrumental in the project while she served on the Sparks City Council, along with Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung, the Nevada Department of Transportation, other members of the current Sparks City Council, and RTC Project Manager Scott Gibson for his patience and support in bringing this project to life.
“I’ve been a Sparks City Councilman for the last 11 years and I have taken more heat on this than any other project during my term,” said Ron Smith. “We took a stalled project and built up trust with the public to be able to follow through. All local entities and businesses were vital in building this project and it’s nice not sending people down to Sparks Boulevard as they can actually get through the intersection now,” he added.
Standing in for Mayor Geno Martini, Sparks City Councilman Ed Lawson thanked Smith for his dedication, neighbors for their input, and mentioned that the RTC has set an example of collaboration regarding upcoming future projects. Lawson then read Mayor Martini’s proclamation marking December 8 as a day to celebrate the RTC and its partnership with the City, positively improving the lives of the 60,000 commuters who travel the Pyramid/McCarran stretch every day.
Former Sparks City Councilwoman and current State Senator Julia Ratti then approached the podium, saying it was nice to be back in Sparks to celebrate a project that makes the community stronger.
“When you do a project like this for a year and a half, there is a very real impact on very real people,” she said. “Some people had to move to improve this community and I want to give heartfelt thanks for the patience and grace to those that lived through this,” Ratti added.
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung, who has lived in Spanish Springs for over 30 years, mentioned how difficult it was to previously get from one place to the other on the old highway and was impressed with the RTC’s communication and keeping everyone well-informed of what was going on. “They took a 45-minute drive and turned it into 15,” he said.
Sparks resident and State Senator Don Gustavson also acknowledged the improved drive on Pyramid/McCarran, noting that he really appreciated the daily updates from the RTC during construction. “It looks really good, the best it’s ever been in years,” Gustavson said.
“Pyramid and McCarran are both state highways and a lot of effort went into acquiring the property,” said NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon. “It’s like taking a kid from somebody,” he added about the relocation process some of the residents in the area had to go through in order to make the project happen. “But we really appreciate the residents’ understanding of this large endeavor,” Malfabon said.
He acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done in fixing the Spaghetti Bowl and improving the traffic flow on Highway 395, but that they have the best partners in order to fix the traffic flow of the ever-growing population of Reno/Sparks commuters.
After the hour-long event, RTC’s Public Affairs Administrator Michael Moreno noted, “This is a very significant project for us and it was all possible due to the community’s support. We got great feedback from the public; it’s heartwarming that they recognize all that went into making this improved roadway possible.”