It’s something that we’ve been waiting for for years and years (and years) but the stretch of I-580 freeway linking Reno with the Washoe Valley, and by extension Carson City, is finally open. Last Friday they opened it for southbound traffic only, and then over the weekend it was open for everyone in both directions. This is exciting not only because it cuts down on the travel time between the two cities, but also because it marks the end of a long progression of freeway construction that has been inching ever closer to the capital city.
Reno News and Review breaks down the history of the freeway phases. 1970 saw the freeway cut through the middle of the Washoe Valley, making a straightaway out of what had once been a winding route along the foothills. Reno saw a number of freeway extensions throughout the 80s and 90s that brought freeway traffic first to Virginia Street by Meadowwood Mall, then further south near Longley, and then all the way to the Mount Rose Highway. That’s where it stopped, though, ever since that last leg opened in 1996 you’ve still had to exit the freeway and take the slow road through Pleasant Valley to get to the Washoe Valley. The last piece was delayed because it was the most complicated bit of engineering, cutting through the mountains and over several canyons, including a trip across Galena Creek that necessitated building one of the largest concrete bridges in the U.S. I’ve been writing about the bridge and freeway construction for at least five years, and I know work has been going on far longer than that. All of it is now paying off.
It’s not all happy news, though. This freeway has long been a symbol of North-versus-South rivalry, a pork project that people in Las Vegas are completely convinced is a waste of money. Why should Carson City get a “freeway to nowhere” when there are so many projects that are needed in Clark County?
Nevada’s most expensive highway project will open this month — an 8 1/2-mile stretch of pavement that most Southern Nevadans will never use, unless you’re a politician or lobbyist commuting between Reno and Carson City.
It will carry an estimated 25,000 vehicles a day — less than a tenth the number of vehicles who survive the Spaghetti Bowl in Las Vegas each day.
“I think it’s widely acknowledged as primarily a flex pose in the mirror, designed to celebrate the political might of a couple of Washoe County legislators,” said Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers.
Of course there’s no rational response to this jealousy. If Las Vegans want to deny that the rest of the state exists or that people actually live outside the Las Vegas Valley they can. It won’t change the fact that Carson City is still the state capital, that enough people live in this area and travel this road to justify building the freeway, and that once every two years when they haul their butts up here for the Legislature they’ll benefit from the freeway too.
Now there is just one link in the freeway system waiting to be built, Phase 3 of the Carson City Freeway going from Fairview to the Spooner interchange. If we can get that done before the year 2020 it will be a win.