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Southeast Connector Gets Final Green Light

Regional Transportation Commission

The controversial Southeast Connector roadway project received final federal approval this week. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that the thoroughfare will eventually connect South Reno to Sparks, easing congestion on Interstate 580 by offering an alternate route to many job sites, including Tesla's gigafactory.

At a press conference held by the Regional Transportation Commission Thursday in Reno, RTC Chair Neoma Jardon said this is more than just a new road, it's a job creator.

"And this isn't just a job creator of construction jobs," she explained. "This is allowing people to get to the economic development jobs that are out at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center."

The 5-and-a-half-mile project will support forthcoming development in the region, but RTC Director Lee Gibson says it's not a new concept and was actually dreamed up back in the '50s.

"I'm about as old as the Southeast Connector idea," Gibson joked, "and that's a pretty long time. The time has come, especially on the cusp of our economic recovery."

The RTC finished its first phase of construction last summer but has been waiting for a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for two years, a wait time that will impact the cost of construction. Project Manager Garth Oksol:

"We have had a benefit during the recession that construction inflation was not as high historically, but we still experienced year-over-year construction inflation."

Part of the delay was due to concerns about high mercury levels within the project area, specifically Steamboat Creek, south of the Truckee River. But the RTC has plans to actually sequester that mercury under the roadway to avoid contamination. The project will also create 80 acres of new wetlands.

Construction on the Southeast Connector will wrap up in late 2017.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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