Regional Transportation Commission Chairman Ron Smith and Executive Director Lee Gibson both took the podium eager to get the dirt turning on Phase I of the SouthEast Connector project. Gibson held up an original plan for the project that dated back to 1964 displaying the effort poured into the project by all city and county governments.
“There have been so many advocates of this project that have stood up to the challenges, and we have faced some challenges along the way,” Gibson said. “This has been a long and complicated process and (the 1964 plans) are a testament to the leadership of the RTC and all the city governments working together to make this happen.”
Smith took the podium with a well accepted “can you believe this is happening” cheer before he presented Bob Larkin, who is in his last week as a Washoe County Commissioner, with a plaque for his services on the RTC Board of Directors. Smith said connectivity is the key to the project and that the entire county would benefit for “years to come.”
“The SouthEast Connecter really is a capstone to the remarkable achievements of the RTC,” Smith said. “We will have better community connectivity that will improve neighborhood living and the road will provide a more efficient and safer alternative to commutes and will promote economic prosperity in the region.”
Smith said upon completion of Phase I and II of the project the road would be dubbed Veterans Parkway, an extension of the south Reno road, and Veterans Bridge. He said plans have been made to plaster plaques of fallen heroes on the bridge and said it is a “no-brainer to dedicate the road to our veterans.”
City and county officials joined community members for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the project including Reno and Sparks city council members, RTC project and department managers and members of the project construction companies. Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said the beginning of the project also marked the completion of a teamwork between all the city governments.
“Anytime we can get together on a project like this that was a little bit controversial and there were some things we had to get over and we did, it’s huge. It really is,” Martini said. “When there is a project that we really need in this community and is really going to benefit this community you know we come together and we get it done.”
Martini said congestion relief on I-80 and US 395 will come as a result of the SouthEast Connector as well as better access to jobs that are south of the Truckee River. Commissioner Larkin was the first to point out the amount of jobs that exist south of the Truckee River compared to the amount of people living there.
“About 70 to 75 percent of the population lives north of the Truckee River and about 65 percent of the jobs are south of the Truckee River,” Larkin said. “When you look at it that way it is apparent that everything is flowing south and north twice a day and there are several choke points along all the commuting routes. This project will save commuting time, gas money and increase productivity at the job sites. It is the right thing to do.”
Larkin said the project “could have been taken off the rails at anytime” but the diligence of the RTC and city governments kept it alive. He said 120 direct jobs will come as a result of Phase I and hundreds of indirect jobs will be created as well.
Phase I of the project will begin at Greg Street and Sparks Boulevard where the roads will be expanded. Next, a 1,300-foot bridge will be put over the Truckee River and 1,800 additional feet of road will be added to get to Clear Water Way, according to Garth Oksol, project manager for the SouthEast Connector.
Oksol said the project is the largest locally funded project in RTC history and it comes with the largest price tag, including Phase I amounting to about $65 million. He said the estimated time for Phase I is 20 months with a total of three years to finish the entire project.