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TIM BURKE: Highway 160 improvement project almost complete

The expansion of Highway 160 over the Mountain Springs summit is just about complete. The increase from two to four lanes will smooth the flow of traffic traveling between Las Vegas and Pahrump.

A significant part of the roadway is divided with a concrete barrier, which should lessen the number of fatal accidents that have occurred on this stretch of road. The new section also has ingress and egress turn lanes so that traffic from side streets isn’t pulling directly into the main flow of traffic traveling at highway speeds. The new section has bicycle lanes and flattened side slopes for safe turnouts and new signage and improved intersection lighting. There are frontage roads for the Mountain Springs community, an emergency signal at the volunteer fire station, and a wildlife under-crossing near mile marker 18.4.

As part of the improvements, the Nevada Department of Transportation included landscaping along the roadway. NDOT had stated before the start of the project that over 1,700 cactus and yuccas would be replanted as well as the trees that were removed along the road. The landscaping also includes painting the concrete barriers and curbs to match the natural colors. The sections along the new frontage roads have ornamental iron art and landscaped rock and gravel (I am not too sure about the vertical rock rows that resemble headstones, though).

When completed, the new section of Highway 160 should cut a few minutes off the drive between Las Vegas and Pahrump, which is good news for the drivers making the daily work commute between the two areas. As Las Vegas continues to push its borders in an ever-widening circle, some Las Vegas residents have moved to Pahrump but kept their jobs in Las Vegas. Lower housing costs, lower taxes, and a more relaxed lifestyle make the daily commute worth it to them. Does that mean Pahrump is going to become a bedroom community for Las Vegas suddenly? There will be some growth, mostly on the southern end of town, but that area is already slated to see most of the development here.

Looking at what has happened in other areas where NDOT has completed significant highway improvements linking large urban areas with rural areas might give us a better idea of what impact the improvements may make here. When NDOT completed the Highway 395 bypass between Reno and Carson City several years ago, the commute between the two cities became faster and easier. Because of that, Carson City saw an increase in residents commuting between Reno and Carson City, but that increase did not significantly impact the lifestyle of its residents.

The rural community of Silver Springs saw a significant impact when US Parkway completed linking Highway 50 and Highway 80. The road is the only way in and out of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), home to Tesla’s Gigafactory. The TRIC has over 18,000 people working 20 minutes north of Reno. With housing costs at record highs for the Reno area, those workers use US Parkway to commute from the Silver Springs area where they have found more affordable housing. The quiet little community of Silver Springs is quiet no more. Housing costs have escalated, and new businesses are moving into the area. The area will continue to expand as TRIC workers continue to move into the region.

The two NDOT projects in northern Nevada had significantly different outcomes. The impact to Silver Springs is directly related to the job growth at TRIC and the completion of US Parkway. Carson City felt little impact from the 395 bypass project. The Highway 160 project impact for us will probably be more like what Carson City experienced, some growth, more services, and businesses because of that growth, but not a massive change to our area’s lifestyle.

Now how can we convince NDOT to widen the last few miles of two lanes of Highway 160 to four lanes into Pahrump?

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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