Drivers traveling through Northern Nevada have long complained about Reno’s Spaghetti Bowl, the point where Interstate 80 meets with US Highway 395. The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is proposing several different fixes to alleviate traffic and improve safety. NDOT will be approving a plan in a couple of months after a public comment period, which is happening now. Here to talk more about this is KUNR’s Bree Zender.
BILLMAN: So tell me about the Spaghetti Bowl at the moment. What are some of the issues that NDOT is facing?
ZENDER: So, the Spaghetti Bowl was built in the late 1960's and early 70's, and when it was built, it was designed to accommodate about 90,000 travelers each day. Right now, the Spaghetti Bowl sees around 260,000 vehicles a day, which is around three times the amount that it’s designed for, so, obviously, there are a lot of problems. There are too many cars for what it’s designed for.
Steve Cook is one of the folks that’s working on the project with NDOT.
“[The Spaghetti Bowl] means everything," Cook explained. "This is the fundamental backbone of Northern Nevada. The community needs this. Everybody needs it. And it’s been needed for quite some time.”
NDOT also conducted a study of the bowl and tracked all of the traffic incidents that [happen] there. The documents say that between 2010 and 2015, over 500 severe accidents occurred at the Wells Interchange on the western side of the Spaghetti Bowl, so that’s just one section of the Spaghetti Bowl. This is a really dangerous spot.
BILLMAN: So, Bree, NDOT has three different plans that they’re proposing. Can you tell me about those?
ZENDER: The first plan that they are proposing is what they’re calling ‘ramp braiding,’ which is basically… you know the onramps that go towards the different [highways and freeways] that make the Spaghetti Bowl the Spaghetti Bowl? They’re going to be kind of stacking two different lanes on top of each other in kind of a bridge format. They’re creating more opportunities for cars to get onto the other roads.
Another plan is to keep the Spaghetti Bowl intact, where it’s at in terms of its structure, but limiting the roads around it so that cars don’t get to the Spaghetti Bowl as often as they do. That might require limiting or closing some of the roads that would lead to the Spaghetti Bowl.
And what NDOT is proposing…their preferred plan is a combination of the two, so both ‘ramp braiding’ and limiting access to the Spaghetti Bowl.
BILLMAN: And NDOT has released an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed project, the one they prefer. What did we find out from that document?
ZENDER: The biggest takeaway that I saw from the impact statement is that it has a pretty solid impact on housing in Reno and Sparks. Though noting that none of this is completely guaranteed at the moment because nothing has been set in stone, NDOT officials told me that people who live in over 800 residences would need to move to make way for new lanes and expanding the roads.
This might impact folks mainly in [neighborhoods near] the northwestern part of the Spaghetti Bowl. [This is] Ward 3 of Reno, represented by city councilman Oscar Delgado. Delgado told me that many of the folks in these neighborhoods are low-income and these are communities of color.
NDOT is legally required to provide a fair market value on the land and the homes, as well as compensation and moving assistance to rental tenants. And officials told me that in addition to the legal requirements, the agency is trying to add additional time to assist folks who need to move, so this adds up to around six years or so, depending on the household and their need.
BILLMAN: Bree, what’s the timeline at the moment for this project? Where are we?
ZENDER: Right now NDOT is taking public comment through January before they make a decision on what plan they’re going with. Up next will be the design process itself. The project is scheduled to begin construction in early 2020, finishing up in late 2021.
In the meantime, there’s a public hearing on Wednesday, December 12 about the project. NDOT says it's one of the last chances to get a word in from the public. It’s from 3 to 7:30 PM at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Room A-3.
I’ll be there, live-tweeting from the event. I’d love to know about what you think of the plans, or if you have any questions about it. I’m @breezender on Twitter. Or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.