By Jason Hidalgo, RGJ
It’s just a little over 12 miles.
For economic development proponents and regional planners, however, Northern Nevada is poised to get even more mileage from the expansion of USA Parkway beyond this extra stretch of road.
Designed to connect Interstate 80 and U.S. Route 50, the USA Parkway expansion project will provide employees easier access to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, home to a growing number of major employers such as Tesla Motors’ gigafactory and Switch’s SUPERNAP colocation data center.
It’s a benefit that applies to both daily commuters and logistics companies, said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
“We look at the extension as helping to connect our region better, especially if you talk about truck traffic and access to other parts of the counties around us,” Kazmierski said. “It also opens up some of that access to labor … as well as better employee access so it’s a positive for infrastructure.”
The benefits from the expansion of USA Parkway from its current six miles to a full-fledged 18-mile state highway, however, go far beyond simple access, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.
Currently, the list of potential contractors has been trimmed down by NDOT to four: Ames Construction, Granite Construction, Kiewet and Q&D Construction. The state expects to receive bidding proposals from the finalists in the fall before it makes its final selection, with construction starting next year. Once finished in late 2017, the expanded USA Parkway — officially designated as State Route 439 — will also yield benefits related to quality of life and cost savings, said Meg Ragonese, NDOT spokeswoman. Those benefits have been cited as a key component to why the highway expansion has been fast tracked from its original 2019 completion date.
“The new roadway would further link the greater Reno-Sparks and Fernley-Fallon areas … enhancing regional mobility,” Ragonese said. “The project will enhance mobility, connectivity and more … including time travel savings, improved safety, reduced pollution and reduced operating costs (for vehicles).”
Prior to gaining prominence, USA Parkway started a decade or so ago as a means to provide access for a grand project that seemed more pie in the sky at the time.
“Our vision for (the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center) was for it to become the largest industrial park in the United States, and in fact it has become that,” said Lance Gilman, principal and developer of the industrial center. “That’s why we built everything to be oversized.”
As part of the plan, Gilman’s group built an interchange that connects with I-80 under NDOT supervision. It also built the 6 miles of road known as USA Parkway today. Even as the road was being built, Gilman knew USA Parkway was destined to be something bigger, especially given its ideal location.
“I knew long term that it would eventually become a state highway,” Gilman said. “It was just a matter of how long it took.”
That time is apparently now. Following the arrival of Tesla Motors’ gigafactory, the state moved up the completion of the USA Parkway road extension from 2019 to the end of 2017 — about the same time that initial construction of the gigafactory is expected to wrap up. NDOT is projecting construction costs of $70 million and has pared down its prospective contractors from six to four candidates, said John Terry, assistant director of engineering. The department expects to get bids in six months before picking the winning contractor and starting construction on the project.
NDOT stressed that the USA Parkway extension was not being done to appease Tesla. Terry pointed out that the department was already studying improved connectivity between I-80 and U.S. 50 way before Tesla’s arrival. This includes an environmental assessment in 2012 for extending USA Parkway all the way to U.S. 50.
“Tesla only helped accelerate (the project),” Terry said. “The project, as presented to our board, is not just about access to Tesla and other existing businesses out there … but to shorten the distance between I-80 and U.S. 50 so people are not forced to go out of their way through the urban area of Fernley.”
Read the rest of Jason’s story at rgj.com.