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Nevada DOT Combats North Valleys Population Boom with US 395 Project

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews demolish the old Parr/Dandini Boulevard Bridge as part of the U.S. 395 North Valleys Project.
Crews demolish the old Parr/Dandini Boulevard Bridge as part of the U.S. 395 North Valleys Project.
The North Valleys region is in northwest Nevada, near the California border. The area, which includes Reno at its southern end, has seen tremendous population growth over the last 30 years and more is projected. In lieu of this, the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is in the midst of several transportation projects to combat this growth, including the U.S. 395 North Valleys project.

Just how much has the area grown? Consider this, the project includes the replacement of the 48-year-old Parr/Dandini Boulevard Bridge that runs over U.S. 395. Since the bridge was constructed, there has been a nearly four-fold increase in population around the area.

And that growth is projected to continue. To meet the needs of the increased population, there are plans to develop over 15,000 single- and 1,600 multi-unit residences in Reno over the next 20 to 30 years.

What’s drawing people to the area? Among other things – business development. Distribution centers and e-commerce facilities have become prevalent in the North Valleys and in Washoe, the local county. The area, from which roughly 10 states are accessible within a one-day drive, sees a significant amount of goods pass through.

Phasing
The U.S. 395 North Valleys project is split into three phases – phase 1A, 1B, and 2.

Phase 1B, which is expected to commence in 2023, will expand U.S. 395.  In certain segments of the valley, there are two lanes southbound and three lanes northbound. During this phase, a third southbound travel lane and auxiliary lanes will be added, and the existing roadway will be rehabilitated. In addition, there will be some aesthetic improvements. The area covers approximately 5 miles.

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During phase 2, which NDOT expects to start in 2026, the third lane on the southbound side of U.S. 395 will be extended, and a third lane will be added on the northbound side. An interchange will be reconfigured and turned into a Diverging Diamond Interchange and an existing corridor will be rehabilitated.

Phase 1A is happening currently and was on track to open in October at the time of publication. The entire project is expected to wrap around Thanksgiving.

During phase 1, NDOT and the contractor, Q&D construction, are replacing the Parr/Dandini Boulevard Bridge. In addition to replacing the bridge, there will be ramp improvements.

The new structure will be wider and longer than its original and its profile will be raised. It will include one thru lane in each direction, with dedicated left turn lanes at each on-ramp, sidewalks on each side, and will be two spans.

Before the project began, NDOT considered rehabbing the bridge rather than replacing it. Nathaniel Mangoba, who is part of the NDOT structures division, said, “We found that the old bridge needed quite a bit of repairs.”

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Those repairs included reconstructing the hinges supporting the girders, which were deteriorating. “A cost analysis found the price to rehab would be similar to replacing the bridge, so we decided to replace,” said Mangoba.

Timing is Everything
Multiple transportation studies in the area made clear there is a need to increase capacity. In order to meet the infrastructure needs, there are several projects happening simultaneously. “The other projects in the area impacted the schedule of this project,” said Jae Pullen, the Project Manager for NDOT. “We pushed this project out, so it would not impact another project in the area.”

Originally, the first phase was one but was separated into two to expedite the bridge replacement. Phase 1A is scheduled to be compete in five months.

There will be no bridge for four of those five months. The bridge has been out since June 8th. “We knew we wanted to be done shortly after a local community college – which is very near the bridge – opens,” said Victor Peters, a Project Coordinator for NDOT, who was involved with the roadway design for this project. “The timing was one of the main issues.”

The schedule was only formulated after surveying local entities. “We asked, ‘what do you want? Do you want a one shot or multiple seasons?’ They chose one construction season,” said Pullen.

Girder Challenges
The timing of the project was also impacted by the arrival of the precast girders. At 128 feet long and 136,000 pounds, getting the girders to the site was a challenge. According to Brett Amesbury, a Project Manager for Q&D, there are only 11 trucks on the West Coast that can haul the girders.

“We built the work start date and scheduled around the precast girder delivery date,” said Andrew Lawrence, NDOT Resident Engineer. “We didn’t want to knock down the structure before the girders delivery schedule was confirmed, so we started work with just enough time to get everything ready for their installation.” 

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This was to enable continuous work on the project from the date the structure was removed until it would be reopened. The team didn’t want to have a gap in work where the substructure (abutments and piers) was complete, but the girders had not yet arrived. This would minimize the amount of time the overcrossing was closed.

Installing the girders was also a challenge due to a 345 kv transmission line that is just 30 feet overhead. “AC Induction from the overhead lines caused induced current and voltage that ‘leaked’ out and caused nuisance shocks to employees contacting reinforcing steel and heavy equipment as far away as 35 to 45 feet away,” said Lawrence. “Equipment and reinforcing steel needed to be grounded when working or placed in the vicinity of the line.” 

This was also a concern because even though most shocks were nuisance level, the team didn’t know if it would get worse with larger masses of steel or, over time, could potentially cause a fire or other safety issues.

“If the line went down, a big portion of Reno would go black,” said Amesbury. “It would lead to damages costing $1 million a day.” The team held multiple meetings with NV Energy on how to work around the transmission line and how best to install the girders safely.

The crew used a marathon weekend with a full closure of mainline U.S. 395 with traffic detoured to the on- and off-ramps get the old bridge demolished and debris hauled away. According to Lawrence, there was great concern about traffic delay when closing mainline U.S. 395, especially northbound where the steep uphill grade of U.S. 395 and the northbound off-ramp would cause slow moving trucks in the single lane detour.

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The detour to the off- and on-ramps went well over the marathon weekend for the bridge demolition, so the team agreed to use an additional marathon weekend closure to install the new bridge girders. NDOT and the contractor detoured traffic onto the ramps and it went well.

On Schedule and On Budget
The contract for phase 1A was awarded for $10.7 million. The federal government is providing 95 percent of the funding, and the state is providing the remainder.

The project is within budget said Lawrence who credits the plans and the construction team. “The plans were well put together, even though it was an accelerated design process, and the construction team has partnered to address any field issues,” said Lawrence.

With the project nearly complete, the public is excited. “This project shows the public we’re serious about infrastructure in the North Valleys and we’re moving forward,” said Lawrence.

Pullen added, “This is just the first piece, and it lets the public know the rest is coming.”

With Phase 1A of the U.S. 395 North Valleys project nearly complete, NDOT is taking clear steps to improve mobility and traffic safety in the region and helping northern Nevada stay connected. U.S. 395, not only helps the flow of goods, but also is a key to helping the local area grow.

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