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Nevada DOT’s Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project Promises Safer and Smoother Journeys in Sparks, Nevada

by: Debra Wood
Crews on the Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project remove dirt to make room for widened lanes. (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction)
Crews on the Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project remove dirt to make room for widened lanes. (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction)
A section of Pyramid Highway is paved with asphalt. (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction)
A section of Pyramid Highway is paved with asphalt. (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction)
Photo courtesy of Granite Construction
Photo courtesy of Granite Construction
Crews work on upgrades along Pyramid Highway. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Crews work on upgrades along Pyramid Highway. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Crews prepare the road for widening. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Crews prepare the road for widening. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Grading takes place on the Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Grading takes place on the Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Work on grading progresses. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
Work on grading progresses. (Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation)
The Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Project in Sparks, Nevada, aims to improve safety and travel predictability in this rapidly growing area.

“Some of the biggest issues and main objectives are to deal with congestion problems and the many travel inefficiencies that come with the fast population growth, as well as the forecast population growth,” said Amanda Callegari, Engineering Manager with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County, Nevada.

Pyramid Highway, a north/south corridor, serves as a key ingress and egress for the Spanish Springs community, with few alternate east-west routes. The U.S. Census reports that nearly 500,000 people live in the county, up 2 percent from 2020.

About 38,000 people live within a two-mile radius of the project. More than 91 percent of those residents are employed outside of the area. About 12,250 people work in the area and 75 percent of them live outside of the region.

About 54,000 vehicles drive daily on specific sections of Pyramid Highway, according to Meg Ragonese, Public Information Officer for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT).

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Congestion in the corridor has been on the rise for more than 20 years, leading to development of a Pyramid Highway Corridor Management Plan and then the Pyramid Highway/U.S. 395 Connection Study in 2008.

Six-Phase Vision Takes Shape
The entire corridor vision consists of six phases, which will widen the highway to Calle de la Plata and connect Pyramid Highway with U.S. 395.

The first phase, under construction by NDOT, widens 1.6 miles of Pyramid Highway, from Queens Way to Los Altos Parkway.

“One reason phase 1 was moved forward is that it was less expensive than some of the other phases, and it could move forward quicker,” Callegari said. “It was also an area with the highest need.”

The second phase runs from Pyramid Highway to Disc Drive in Sparks, the third will build a connector from U.S. 395 to Disc Drive. The fourth will construct U.S. 395 system ramps. Phase 5 will construct a Sparks Boulevard Interchange with Pyramid Way, with 60 percent of the design completed; and the final phase involves Raggio Parkway.

Design work has begun for some of the future projects. Design is 60 percent complete on the grade-separated Sparks Boulevard Interchange with Pyramid Way. Funding for the entire project has not been secured.

Phase 1 Underway
Granite Construction of Sparks received the $58 million construction contract for phase 1 and began work in May 2023. In addition to the widening, the project includes adding curbs and gutters; updating drainage facilities with larger-sized pipes and a detention basin where water had ponded in the past; improving shoulders; and creating bicycle lanes and a barrier-protected shared-use path on the east side of the road. NDOT designed this phase inhouse and completed the plans in summer 2022.

The project received a $23 million federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant to build phase one, and another $21 million in other federal funds. The balance of the money came from state and local sources.

Work on the first phase of the project is progressing on schedule, with the widening southbound from Queen Way to Los Altos well under way. Crews are now working on widening the northbound lanes on the east side of the road, with an expected completion date of October 2024.

“Most of the public is excited about the added lane to Los Altos,” said Alma Piceno-Ramirez, NDOT Resident Engineer overseeing phase 1. “We are also having landscaping and aesthetic elements to beautify the corridor.”

Granite crews use GPS on the company’s grade setters and the majority of its equipment to be more efficient with excavation and grading, said Dan Caldwell, Project Manager for Granite. The company also uses drone flights monthly to record progress on the job.

The last portion of the current phase entails rebuilding the existing four lanes from Los Altos to Golden View Drive. The work includes adding curbs and gutters, widening the median, improving the shoulders, pouring concrete in the median, adding a sidewalk on the west side and a shared-use path, installing five sound walls, and placing a mechanically stabilized earth wall and a retaining wall.

“This section has a lot of interesting work, a lot of drainage work in the shoulders,” Caldwell said.

Granite plans to work through the winter as weather allows.

Overcoming Traffic Challenges
“The biggest challenge I see is traffic control, trying to widen and add features when you have a limited area to work in and you have to maintain two lanes of traffic, because of the amount of cars that the area experiences,” Piceno-Ramirez said.

“Maintenance of traffic is the biggest challenge in getting the work done,” Caldwell agreed. “Especially with all of the earth work, removing dirt from the site to build the widening.”

During the daytime, Granite has maintained two 11-foot-wide lanes of traffic in each direction, and pedestrian and bicycle access. Intermittent nighttime lane closures have occurred. Granite created subphases to keep traffic moving and the work progressing.

Left turns have been prohibited between Los Altos and Golden View, drivers must turn right in and right out of their neighborhoods to avoid crashes that could occur if vehicles stopped to turn left in a through lane. Also, that has allowed Granite to work on both sides of the roadway, building the drainage infrastructure and the nonvehicle lanes, and milling and repaving with asphalt.

“Granite is proud we were awarded the job and are able to complete it,” Caldwell said. “It’s nice to come to work every day.”

The team anticipates the project will finish in summer 2025.

“When completed, this project will be a huge benefit to the mobility and the safety of all who drive this section of Pyramid Highway,” Ragonese said. “This also is an important part of future connectivity improvements planned for the entire region.”

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