Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2017

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Sorry, Southern Nevada, but we did need a new road

As a resident of Northern Nevada, I want to thank our neighbors to the south for helping fund the new Interstate 580 link between Carson City and Reno.

I would also like to apologize for the $575 million price tag, which means less funds to help Southern Nevada’s traffic congestion problems.

If I lived in Southern Nevada, I would probably be upset by this discrepancy in highway spending. I think our southern neighbors need an explanation of why this project was needed and why it will never happen again.

Simply looking at comparisons of how much money per person is spent on state highway projects between north and south is very deceptive. Northern Nevada is far more mountainous, and we have to deal with heavy snow, ice and other weather conditions that are not as prevalent in the south. That makes highways more expensive to build and maintain.

There is also the difference in geography. The big reason why I-580 costs so much is that is had to be built into the side of a mountain. There just wasn’t any other place to put it, unless you wanted to relocate entire communities that occupy the bottom of the very narrow valley between Reno and Carson City where the old highway sits.

Some critics have characterized the road as only benefiting the 55,000 residents of Carson City. But they overlook that I-580 also serves 100,000 residents in surrounding counties. This includes the residents of Lyon County, which at the time the project began, was the fastest-growing county in the entire nation. This highway is also the main route to Lake Tahoe, a big driver for the Northern Nevada economy. The new highway serves as the major roadway link between Northern Nevada and Southern California, used not just by residents and tourists, but also by lots of commercial trucks. This area has become a major warehousing and shipping destination for large companies, as evidenced by the success of the 107,000-acre Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, the largest industrial park in the world.

Then there is the safety aspect. The old route between Reno and Carson City was a four-lane highway with no divider, running through several rural communities. Those whose driveways entered this very busy highway risked their lives every day just leaving their homes. The number of fatal collisions on this route was frightening. How much is a life worth?

When these accidents occurred, the entire road would be shut down, sometimes for many hours at a time. There was no easy way around this bottleneck. A half-hour drive could easily turn into a two-hour detour through the mountains. That’s bad enough in the summer, but add in winter snow, and it sometimes became an impossible journey. The new highway is not only much safer and faster, but it provides an easy alternative route in the event that either highway is blocked.

Now, let’s talk politics. The fact that I-580 exists at all is because of one man, the late Bill Raggio, His 38 years in the Nevada Senate spanned a time when the population and political power shifted from north to south. As the upper chamber’s top Republican, Raggio was able to procure many things for his Northern Nevada district, and one of those was I-580.

Raggio is dead, and with term limits now in place, we will never see someone like him again. With the shift in population to the south, there is little chance the north will ever again be able to move a project like this through the Nevada Legislature.

In fact, the current fear in the north is that the south will neglect their needs from this point forward. Some are afraid that Southern Nevada legislators will abandon the state government infrastructure in Carson City and move the capital to Las Vegas to avoid the hassle of traveling outside of Clark County.

It would be harder to find anyone in Northern Nevada who hasn’t visited the southern part of the state than to find someone in Las Vegas who has traveled to the north. While we love our home here in the north, we respect and appreciate our southern neighbors and their special place in our state’s past, present and future.

Nevada is a large state. North and south each have different needs, but we are one state. We should look to serve the needs of all of Nevada and not just bicker about which part of the state is getting more money.

Kirk Caraway is founder/publisher of Carson Now, former columnist for the Nevada Appeal and a 2012-13 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

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