RTC Turns Intersection Improvement Into Work of Art
The need for safer and more efficient traffic movement through a busy Sparks, Nevada, thoroughfare turned a routine intersection improvement project into a functioning work of art.
In 2005, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County, Nevada, identified the McCarran Boulevard and Pyramid Way intersection, east of Reno, as a traffic hotspot in need of attention. Approximately 60,000 vehicles go through the intersection daily, with few alternate routes to help with traffic flow.
"Not only was this intersection highly congested due to regional growth and development in the Reno-Sparks area, it was also consistently a high-crash location," explained Scott Gibson, Engineer II for RTC and the Project Manager for the reconstruction. "Rapid development would have continued to aggravate the congestion and safety issues, and it was important to our community for us to find a solution."
Reducing Community Impact
As with any project of this size, several agencies and companies came together to get the work done. CME, the quality assurance consultant for the RTC, provided a team of consultants specifically tailored for this project, with sub-contractor NCE hired to provide oversight during the construction phase. In this case, the resident engineer (RE) had a personal tie to the intersection.
Mike Brown, P.E., the RE with NCE, was a teenager when the intersection was first constructed in the late 1970s. He helped his father survey it, and worked on overlay projects twice during his career with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT). He agreed that the community at the center of the road project was ultimately the priority as the project marched along start-to-finish.
"Being in the middle of a quiet neighborhood with two schools, seven churches, a shopping center, and medical services only added to the burden of maintaining access and providing for heavy commuter traffic morning and night," said Brown. "It is easy to forget those affected most [who have] little or no voice."
Ahead of Schedule
An environmental impact statement began in 2005, taking eight years to complete. The result was a Record of Decision in 2013, sending the project on with a request for proposal. It is a conventional design-bid-build. Ground broke in April 2016, with a projected completion date of spring 2018. The project, however, finished up last month.
This early wrap-up happened despite a few natural challenges from the weather.
"This project was built during the wettest year on record and did include a flood event that set us back four to six weeks for clean-up," Brown recalled. Creative traffic control solutions that allowed work on more than one phase at a time accounts for the early completion date, while softening the impact to the neighborhood.
Beyond the transportation benefits, the project incorporated aesthetically-pleasing elements to go along with the reconstruction. Precast concrete sound walls were created to reduce noise from the intersection as well as offering a visual barrier, and features designs selected by the community. The designs mimic the natural elements that surround Sparks, including the view.
"The Reno-Sparks area has an incredible skyline with endless views of the Sierra Mountain Range," said Gibson. Burying utilities during the project "was a huge benefit, opening up mountain vistas."
Funding the Project
Federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) and Federal Pyramid Highway Corridor earmarks paid for almost all of the $73 million project, with a five percent local match coming from the RTC fuel tax and RTC-5 fuel tax bonding. Of that amount, $42 million was dedicated to construction, and the remainder earmarked for design and right-of-way acquisition. The Department of Transportation administered the funds.
Because both roads are owned by Nevada, a local public agency (LPA) agreement with NDOT, necessary for RTC to have jurisdiction for the project, gave the RTC a local voice in the process.
"For our agency, the magnitude and the scope of this project set it apart from other intersection improvement projects," Gibson said. "As a local agency, the RTC is more attuned to community concerns and needs, and brought that attitude to the project."
Approximately one mile of roadway was reconstructed, in addition to the actual intersection of Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard. Five additional intersections in the area were reconfigured as well, receiving new signals and lighting. Seventy-three properties, including 67 homes, were acquired for the project.
Materials used in the roadway were asphalt concrete over a conventional base course, with an asphalt open-graded friction course on top. The paint is epoxy inlay, and the visual screen and sound walls are precast concrete.
Transparency Through Public Outreach
Access to local businesses also underwent a facelift. Multi-use paths, sidewalks and bike lanes were created as well. New landscaping softens the hardscape of concrete and asphalt.
"As we began work on the design of the project, it became clear that we were not just building an intersection, but, in fact, we were building a neighborhood," said Gibson. "We were not just moving traffic through the area, but we were also benefitting a thriving commercial area and creating a vibrant, walkable and bikeable neighborhood in the process."
Transparency with the public and intense social media presence were key to take the sting out of the impact on citizens living in the area. "A dedicated website with traffic cameras, emails, and texting - public outreach was a high priority," said Brown. "Not everybody was happy but we worked hard to make the best compromises for safety and production."
"We did have some people in the nearby neighborhood who were resistant to change, but the RTC did a significant amount of public outreach," Gibson recalled. Staff went door-to-door and held public meetings and open houses, hoping to win over the community.
The outreach continued throughout the project, including measures to help local businesses feel less of an pinch during construction. The RTC developed a website dedicated to the Pyramid-McCarran project progress, maintained a YouTube channel, used push alerts and emails in addition to traditional means of keeping everyone up-to-date.
And yet, Gibson believes there is room for improvement when launching a massive project like this one.
"Get public input, and when you think you have enough, go get some more, and listen to what people tell you," Gibson recommended.