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Knowing Nevada: Is Reno the next Austin, Texas?

In 1970, Austin, Texas had around the same population of the Reno-Sparks area of 2017.

That number, 250,000 people, has exploded into more than 900,000 today.

Starting in the 1970s, big technology-based companies started moving to or opening up in Austin. By the 1990s, hundreds called Austin home, such as IBM and Motorola.

Reno-Sparks is seeing a similar tech boom, as Tesla and other major companies expand in northern Nevada.

Edible Reno-Tahoe Magazine Publisher Jaci Goodman lived in Austin in the 1980s and says she already sees similarities between both areas.

"Austin was supposed to be this sleepy little town, a college town, and then tech came," says Goodman. "We are starting to see tech here, and I already see the difference."

The tech boom increased the population in Austin drastically.

News 4 Weather Authority Chief Meteorologist Colin Jackson worked in Austin in the 1990s and says the freeway system was negatively impacted by the population growth.

"I-35 through Austin can be a parking lot starting at 2 in the afternoon," says Jackson. "I see 35 and 395 as the same kind of freeway. We are going to have a lot more north to south traffic."

Major development is underway in Damonte Ranch, and the potential exists in the Sparks Wingfield Springs area.

Austin grew north to south as well.

"To know where it is going to go with all of the great companies that are coming here, I am afraid. I am actually afraid," says Goodman. "What are we going to do when another 200,000 people show up?"

The Regional Transportation Commission recognizes this growth issue and are focusing on improving Spaghetti Bowl traffic when it comes to west to north, east to south and south to east traffic.

"The second part of the Spaghetti bowl focus is going to be on safety," says RTC Executive Director Lee Gibson. "In the end, I think design recommendations considered will be direct connector ramps and improvements to total lanes."

When it comes to city culture, both Goodman and Jackson agree that Reno-Sparks is comparable to Austin of the 1980s and 1990s.

"I think the food culture, for me, we are where Austin was when I was in school there," says Goodman. "Everything was locally owned businesses."

Jackson says the vibe of northern Nevada fits in with Austin as well.

"I moved here a year ago January and when I was driving up and down South Virginia through midtown I saw the neon and the shops and the bars and the funky places," says Jackson. "I said to my wife, 'Doesn't this just remind you of Austin?'"

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