The 5.5-mile, six lane stretch of road connecting Sparks to South Reno is officially open, alleviating traffic and providing a more efficient commute for travelers heading to or from Sparks. On Friday, July 6, the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, City of Sparks, City of Reno and around 200 other dignitaries in the area (including Senator Dean Heller) met at the Huffaker Bridge to commemorate the opening of the new Veterans Parkway/South Meadows intersection.
The $300 million project was made possible by the voter-approved RTC-5 fuel tax revenues and includes 13 bridges, environmental and safety enhancements, and a multi-use bike path for recreation.
“Opening of the SouthEast Connector has been long anticipated and the community has been anxiously awaiting for this road to be done,” says RTC Public Affairs Manager Michael Moreno. The new roadway reduces commute times at a minimum 7-10 minutes one way and the RTC has helped repair and rebuild the natural environment, creating a safer habitat for Northern Nevada’s wildlife.
“My favorite part (of the connector) is how much easier it is to get from one end to the other and it’s striking to see how beautiful the wetlands are,” Moreno says. Deer, pelicans, egrets, ducks, and even wild horses can be spotted amongst the 600 cottonwood and willow trees planted, relishing in their new and improved environment.
The RTC and its contractors have installed mitigation measures to keep wildlife from coming onto the roadway and have cleaned up 469 million pounds of noxious weeds and soil. Whitetop has been the main culprit in the area, robbing the soil of nutrients and water while being mildly toxic to wildlife. The project also involved removing and permanently encapsulating 22,000 pounds of mercury left over from the historic Comstock mining days and removing 3.8 million pounds of trash that the public unfortunately used as a dumping site.
While the project went along rather smoothly since its approval in late 2008-2009, one of the major challenges was getting public support. The RTC started the public input process almost immediately after its approval, but rumors started circulating quickly about the project entailed.
“There were a number of milestones in this project, but one of the main ones was that it was important to us to get accurate information distributed because there was a lot of misinformation out there,” says Moreno.
The permitting process was also extensive as the RTC had to gain approvals from the Waters of the United States and a variety of other environmental aspects regarding the safety of wildlife, the wetlands, and flood mitigation.
Fortunately, people such as Sparks Mayor Pro Tempore and RTC Chairman Ron Smith could help keep the project moving forward.
“Ron Smith was very instrumental in this project. One of his goals from the beginning of his first term was to get this (connector) done. He’s been a staunch advocate and champion for this project. But I have to give credit to the entire RTC board and the past administration, plus it’s the Washoe County voters who brought in RTC-5 so we could have the funding in place to build necessary roads and infrastructure,” Moreno says.
“My daughter lives in South Meadows and drove the Connector for the first time last Friday night. She made it to Legends in 10 minutes,” he adds.