Future Spaghetti Bowl Design, Construction Studied; Severe Impact at RSIC Likely

Anyone who has used the Interstate 80/Interstate 580 interchange, or the Spaghetti Bowl, knows that this area is the Achilles’ heel of Reno – Sparks roadways.

Originally constructed between 1969 and 1971 for a metropolitan population of about 130,000 people, the interchange now sees about 118,000 vehicles daily on I-80 just west of the Spaghetti Bowl, while another 102,000 travel U.S. 395 just north of the interchange, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT).

The Washoe County Consensus Forecast, a written report of projected population, forecasted growth rate exceeding state and national averages though 2030. According to this same report, the population of Washoe County is projected to be 548,159 people in 2036.

The number of collisions at the Spaghetti Bowl nearly doubled in the last five years, growing from 598 crashes in 2011 to 1,060 in 2015.

Additionally, someone was injured in a crash near the interchange almost every day in 2015.

These alarming statics compelled Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to emphasize, during his 2017 state of state address, the need for safety measures for the interchange.

So, NDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in cooperation with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) will be proposing improvements, specifically to reconstruct the interchange, to accommodate the future travel demands in Washoe County.

According to project’s website, the plan is expected to increase safety and improve operations for both current and future traffic needs.

However, for citizens and community members of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, this potentially $500 million project which is projected to be designed by 2020 and constructed by 2030, might mean smoother highway traffic patterns, but the reconfiguration of nearby exits might negatively impact the Tribe as well.

“For over 100 years, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony has worked to improve the quality of life for its Tribal members and to develop a self-sufficient economy,” said Chairman Arlan D. Melendez. “Our tribal members rely on the East 2nd street and Glendale avenue interchange to access their homes and to obtain government and health care services.”

Chairman Melendez explained that a closure or change in access to these critical exits / entries could negatively impact the tribal members’ ability to access areas off the reservation for employment and personal needs.

He said that increased traffic would cause a domino effect increasing traffic on Golden lane and Reservation road through established neighborhoods, educational and government facilities.

Moreover, Chairman Melendez noted that regional partners along with the RSIC have spent millions of dollars to redevelop and improve former blighted properties near the current Spaghetti Bowl. These improvements have helped advance local government plans and development goals, and federal policies toward tribes.

“The East 2nd street, Glendale avenue interchange provides critical access for customers visiting Tribal Enterprises and businesses like our smoke shops and Walmart at Three Nations Plaza,” Chairman Melendez said. “Any temporary disruption for businesses during construction activities will negatively impact our tribal government revenues.”

Chairman Melendez said that this construction along with the final design, could have a significant, long-term impact on tribal employment and future employment, which are directly tied to tribal revenues.

However, the planning design, as well as future construction for the Spaghetti Bowl requires compliance with the federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA requires federal agencies including the FHWA, to assess the environmental effects of a proposed project prior to making decisions. It establishes a framework for environmental review and ensures public and agency participation in the process. Finally, the federal process is intended to help agencies like NDOT and RTC, consider environmental consequences and avoid, minimize, or mitigate environmental impact. The NEPA process for the Spaghetti Bowl project began in March and is expected to continue through May 2020.

Indian Country has great concern as to the environmental impacts to the earth; but the negative social and economic impacts are just as important.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes making decisions on permit applications and constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities. The possibility of fast-tracking through the NEPA has already been suggested.

In January, a board member for NDOT asked whether the state might escape those intensive environmental studies under an executive order signed by United States President Donald Trump. The board member said that the intent of that order was that all public projects would be exempt from the environmental process.

However, NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon said that he doubts the Spaghetti Bowl could be exempted because of “significant issues with the river and tribal lands…” as Interstate 80 goes over the Truckee River and the freeway passes right next to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. Malfabon also told the Northern Nevada Business Weekly that federal money will finance up to 90 percent of the project and bonds should cover the rest.

Malfabon and NDOT Senior Project Manager Nick Johnson outlined seven goals for the improvements which include:

1. Accelerated Delivery: Complete NEPA in 3-and-a-half years or less
2. Long Term Relief: Develop ultimate project to meet 2040 demands
3. Public Support: Secure endorsement from local governments and a favorable opinion from the public
4. Right-of-Way: Minimize displacements
5. Safety: Prioritize project based on eliminating/reducing high accident areas
6. Operations: Create interchange system fully functional and easily navigable within project limits
7. Aesthetics: Enhance the community’s driving experience through visually appealing improvements to the project area