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Nevada DOT Expands US 50

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews from Granite Construction pave part of the new U.S. 50 expansion near Silver Springs, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation
Crews from Granite Construction pave part of the new U.S. 50 expansion near Silver Springs, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation
The 1860’s were a violent and bloody era in American History as the Civil War raged for the first half of the decade. The Pony Express, which is synonymous with the Old West, existed during the early part of the 1860’s as well. The 1,800-mile route that ran from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California connected the East to the West. The route could be traveled in 10 days and enabled a letter to be delivered faster than ever before.

Silver Springs, Nevada – located in the Western part of the state about 35 miles from Carson City – sits along Route 50 and is situated by the old Pony Express. This section of Route 50 – which runs through the entire state and is part of a rural stretch – is being expanded from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane, divided highway.

This is phase two of the U.S. 50 widening project. The first phase began in 2012 and was completed a few years ago. Upon completion, it will add a key link to one of the most traveled corridors in Lyon County.

“Route 50 is a major junction and a meaningful corridor as it cuts through the center of Nevada,” says Ashley Hurlbut, a Resident Engineer with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT). This phase of the project is focusing on 10 miles, while the two phases combined widened more than 16 miles of roadway.

Goals of the Project
“Expanding the lanes achieves the first and foremost goals of the project which is improving mobility and enabling traffic to flow smoothly in the area,” says Meg Ragonese, an NDOT Public Information Officer. Although it’s a rural area, there is a sizable amount of traffic. The average daily traffic is 6,000, and it’s a combination of both commuters and freight and cross-state traffic.

Other goals of the project include improved safety. “The expansion to a divided highway reduces the potential for crossover crashes, which has happened in the past in the area,” says Ragonese.

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Further safety elements include improved control access and safer turns to side streets and the construction of a roundabout. A secondary aspect of the project is the extension of the U.S. 95A northbound truck climbing lane. The single lane concrete roundabout – which is at U.S. 50 and U.S. 95A – replaced a four-way stop sign. It was completed in May 2020.

Previously, there was no lighting along the roadway, so lighting was put in to enhance safety. “There are some potential conflict zones along the route,” says Marty Powers, a Project Manager for Granite Construction, who is completing the project. Powers, whose responsibilities include coordinating daily operations and ensuring work is completed on time and according to the specs, says, “By lighting the area up there will be improved visibility and an increase in safety.”

The lighting will help commuters be more aware of each other as well avoid wildlife. The area is home to the Virginia Range, which is made up of approximately 2,000 wild and feral horses. Tourists come to the area to find herds of the animals. Besides the lighting, the team is installing 15 miles of livestock fencing on both sides to keep the wildlife off the roads.

Appearances Matter
About 2 to 3 percent of the budget for every major NDOT project goes toward beautification. For this project, the money went towards landscape and aesthetics improvements in the vicinity of U.S. 50/U.S. 95A roundabout.

As part of the improvements, NDOT installed decorative figures honoring the Pony Express, decorative rock, and rock walls. Decorative structures filled with blue glass rock are installed at the roundabout in Silver Springs. Stamped and colored concrete was also used as part of the construction to improve the area.

Budget and Schedule
The $55 million dollar project – which is receiving financing from both the federal and state government – is being delivered via the traditional design-bid-build method. Hurlbut notes the budget for the project was increased due to adding an additional frontage road to the project to connect U.S. 50 to USA Parkway. The project is not expected to exceed the budget augmented for the additional frontage road.

Final design of the project was completed in the fall of 2018 and work began at the beginning of 2019. The bulk of the work – including the final paving grade, shouldering, and permanent striping – was completed July 4, 2020 and the entire corridor was opened for traffic.

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“We had a mild winter in 2019, and we were able to get a lot of the work done on the roundabout,” says Powers. “The mild fall allowed us to complete the mainline paving before the winter shutdown.” The team was also able to work and be productive during the pandemic while following OSHA’s rules.

A Benefit to the Area
Although the area where the project is taking place is rural, it is in the vicinity of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC). With over 15,000 acres, TRIC is the largest industrial park in the world. The Center is home to a number of big-name companies including, Tesla, Google, and Jet.com.

“This project can help support potential future development in the area,” says Ragonese. “It also opens up a new corridor and allows people to live in the Silver Springs and Dayton areas and work at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.”

With the widening of Route 50 just about complete, commuters will have a safer and quicker ride. Just like the famous Pony Express, Route 50 is enabling speedy travel.

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