On Your Side: Local leaders clash over need for new road to Tesla

I-80 near Mustang is seen in this file image. (KRNV/KRXI)

As president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, Mike Kazmierski is excited about the future. But he has plenty of concerns too.

Among them are traffic and possible gridlock on Interstate 80 as it stretches into Storey County.

"This is a significant issue that doesn't seem to be on anyone's radar," he said.

EDAWN, which has been instrumental in bringing new high-tech businesses to the area, is now pushing for a secondary road that would start out in north Sparks and cut through the hills. It would lead to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, home to companies like Tesla and Switch.

"We need to start the process now," Kazmierski told us. "And as soon as possible get that connector in."

But some say Kazmierski and EDAWN are pushing too hard to get what they want, and trying to use the tech boom as leverage.

The issue came to a head at a recent meeting of the Regional Transportation Commission, where some board members pushed right back when asked about funding what they view as a new road to Tesla.

RTC's primary mission is to plan out and obtain funding for projects in Washoe County.

"It's coming to this board to fix transportation issues that are being created by EDAWN and Storey County," said RTC board member Paul Mckenzie.

The new road to TRI would cost somewhere in the range of $400 million. But at this point, it is not clear where the road would be built exactly, how many lanes it would be or who would pay for it.

"I'm not going to fool anybody, a second road to the TRI Center is going to be a challenge," said Lee Gibson, executive director at RTC. "It's going to be a hard endeavor."

That secondary road is part of RTC's 25-year plan, and initial studies are just getting underway. But EDAWN is pushing to get it built in five years to help ease congestion on the stretch of Interstate 80 that leads to the USA Parkway.

That's hit a nerve with people like Mckenzie, who is also a member of the Reno City Council. He says EDAWN's timeline is neither realistic nor appropriate.

"EDAWN is supposed to be working for the community," Mckenzie said. "And that they would have priorities that are different from the community's is kind of surprising to me."

Those other priorities include the I-80/580 interchange, affectionately known as the Spaghetti Bowl. The Nevada Department of Transportation is gearing up for a major reconstruction of the Spaghetti Bowl starting in 2022.

Mckenzie, who represents the North Valleys on the Reno City Council, says fixing the Spaghetti Bowl must continue to be the region's top transportation focus, not a new road leading to Tesla.

We asked Mckenzie if he thinks EDAWN is exaggerating the traffic issues around the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

"I think they have a misunderstanding of how it compares to other traffic issues," he said.

Kazmierski says it is simply a matter of addressing these growing transportation challenges from a regional perspective, rather than local, as Northern Nevada continues to grow in all directions.

"I don't have the freedom to represent one municipality over another," Kazmierski explained. "I've got to talk about what's best for the region."

But is what's best for the region, really best for all? That is likely to be the focus of many debates, not just this one, as Northern Nevada continues to grow and thrive.

As for what's next, RTC has applied for a $500,000 federal grant to begin some initial studies of that new road to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. They expect to find out in March whether they will get that money to start the initial work on this project.

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