RENO, Nev. (AP) Parts of it are decidedly eye-grabbing — concrete monoliths towering into the sky. But much of a new freeway being built south of Reno, northern Nevada’s largest highway project, is tucked mostly out of sight in the hills west of U.S. 395.
Those hills conceal the activity of as many as 400 construction workers on a project now nearly half complete.
“If people could just drive up there and see it, they would understand there’s a lot of work going on,” said Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation. “They’re as busy as ants.”
They’re busy building the last continuous stretch of freeway linking Reno and Carson City, a $600 million project envisioned since at least the 1970s and under way with different contractors since 2003.
It should be finished and open to traffic by late 2011, NDOT officials say.
That won’t be soon enough for Pleasant Valley resident Pete Eizaguirre, who is eager to see many of the roughly 40,000 cars per day that pass his neighborhood on an undivided U.S. 395 diverted to the new six-lane freeway to the west.
As many as 70 percent of those cars are expected to use the new freeway and avoid the road through Pleasant Valley, often congested with speeding traffic and the site of many deadly crashes over the years.
“I’m waiting for it. It’s going to be a lot of help for us,” said Eizaguirre. “It should have been done long ago.”
Born and raised in Reno, Jim Brady moved to Pleasant Valley 19 years ago. He used to gaze from his back yard up a steep mountain slope often covered by foraging deer.
Now, just a few hundred feet from his yard, looms a wall of concrete where the freeway is being built.
“We moved into the country, and now we’ve got a six-lane freeway,” said Brady. “Of course we can’t be happy about having a freeway in our back yard, but that’s life, I guess. What can you do about it?
“It remains to be seen if it will be noisy,” he added. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Concerns aside, Brady said he’s noticed fast progress on the project since it was taken over by a new contractor in early 2007.
“I’m really impressed watching how they just move mountains,” Brady said. “They’re moving right along compared to that last bunch.”
That last bunch was the first contractor to take on the I-580 project, Wisconsin-based Edward Kraemer and Sons, which halted work in 2006 in a contract dispute with the state.
The contractor contended that the design for the Galena Creek Bridge was flawed and that the 300-ft.-high (91 m) bridge could collapse in severe winds during a particularly vulnerable point of construction.
State engineers disputed that, but state officials decided against continuing a dispute that would likely involve lengthy legal battles and long delays in construction.
“We’ve got it started, so it’s necessary that we finish it,” Gov. Kenny Guinn said in November 2006. Guinn and fellow members of the state Transportation Board agreed to sever the state contract with Edward Kraemer and Sons, paying the company $50 million for work already completed.
North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. was awarded a $393.3 million contract to build the rest of the freeway.
The largest transportation contract in state history was about $64 million more than budgeted and the overall project more than $100 million more than originally estimated, largely because of double-digit inflation in the cost of steel and other construction material, NDOT officials said at the time.
Another contractor, bridge specialist C.C. Myers Inc. of California, took over construction of the Galena Creek Bridge, erecting the structure in a more conventional manner than originally planned. The arch and road deck for I-580’s southbound lanes are largely completed, while crews have begun construction of the arch for the bridge’s northbound lanes.
When finished, the Galena Creek Bridge will consist of two bridges side by side. At 300 ft. high, 1,700 ft. (518 m) long with a 700-ft.-long (213 m) supporting arch, it will be the largest structure of its type in the world, and one of nine bridges being built as part of the freeway extension.
The project has been challenging, said Tommy Fisher, president of Fisher Sand and Gravel. There’s the massive bridge. There are steep cuts into mountainside, posing danger for workers. Crews unearthed huge deposits of sand-like decomposed granite, very useful as fill material. They came across another huge deposit of volcanic ash, good for nothing.
“There’s been some surprises,” Fisher said. “We always have challenges on a big project like that but it’s gone very well.”
Brad Durski, the project’s manager for NDOT, said the freeway’s construction is unlike anything he’s been involved with over his career.
“To be associated with this, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Durski said, “and everybody on the project pretty much feels the same way.”