By Jeri Davis
Construction expedited on Virginia Street Project in the midtown district
Anyone who’s driven or walked down Virginia Street in midtown has noticed how quiet the usually bustling neighbor has become since non-essential businesses were ordered to close by Governor Steve Sisolak. Some businesses like restaurants and coffee shops are offering delivery and curbside pickup of to-go orders, but the volume of traffic through the neighbor is nothing like in normal times.
As the community waits for a time when it’s safe to get back out and enjoy socializing and patronizing local businesses, the quiet has allowed for the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County and its contracted construction company Sierra Nevada Construction to fast-track work on the massive $80 million Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension project, which is intended to better connect the midtown district to the University of Nevada, Reno with increased bus traffic. The project has had the midtown district cluttered with construction cones and equipment for well over a year now.
In the past, construction crews closed Virginia Street in one direction while tearing up old roadway, allowing southbound traffic to continue to utilize the other side. But, at this time, Virginia Street is completely closed to traffic from the intersection of Mary and Center streets south to Mount Rose Street.
“So that section, right now, is completely closed to traffic—and that’s so crews can really expedite construction on the project,” said Lauren Ball, RTC public information officer. “Instead of tearing that section of roadway up one side at a time, they can tear it up all at once, and then they can come back in and pave it all at once. And that’s going to shave about five to six weeks off of construction time for that section of the project.”
During the cold winter months, crews have focused on getting sidewalks poured because paving actual roadways is something that requires warmer temperatures.
“Right now, crews are finishing getting everything ready to start paving,” Ball said. “So sidewalks are mostly poured. We’re working on sealing the sidewalks, treating them. And as soon as temperatures warm up—probably later [this] week or the week after—they’re going to start paving on that section of Virginia Street.”
New streetlights are also going in. They’re shorter and more decorative than the old ones but are expected to provide ample light. The old streetlights will be removed once all of the new ones have been installed, Ball said.
According to Ball, the RTC is also working with business owners whose stores remain open to provide them with accessibility for curbside pick-up. Yelp has created a list of Reno/Sparks that are still providing take-out and delivery; however, if a midtown business isn’t on the list, it doesn’t mean it’s closed.
Ball also said that the safety of the people working construction has been kept in mind even as work on the project hastens.
“We’re working safely under Nevada OSHA guidelines and under the governor’s mandate,” she said. “There’s extra social distancing on crews. And they’re provided with hand sanitizer and things like that too.”
An April 2 press release from the RTC reiterated this message, with RTC Interim Executive Director Amy Cummings quoted as saying, “The safety of our community is our top priority. Because we are able to work with our contracted employees to ensure safety, we are making progress on important regional projects and keeping people in our community employed.”
In addition to hand sanitizers and social distancing, other safety measures include smaller crew sizes and a requirement that meals be eaten separately in vehicles or other areas that allow crew members to stay at least six feet apart. Construction team members have also been discouraged from carpooling and told to avoid common-use water coolers.
“Because we are able to work with our contracted employees to ensure safety, we are making progress on important regional projects and keeping people in our community employed.” Amy Cummings, RTC interim director
Updates from the RTC:
- Thoma Street was closed beginning Monday, April 6, and will remain closed for approximately three weeks for installation of a new Truckee Meadows Water Authority box structure.
- Paving operations are anticipated to begin this week on Virginia Street from Center Street to Mt. Rose Street. Virginia Street is closed to through traffic. People are being advised to use Holcomb Avenue.
- Curb, gutter and sidewalk installation on the west side of Virginia Street from Center Street to Liberty Street continues.
- Installation of infrastructure for RAPID transit stations continues.
- Roundabout construction on the westside of the roundabout is in process on Virginia Street at Center Street and Mary Street; Center Street is closed at Virginia Street.
- Construction operations on Virginia Street between Interstate 80 and the University of Nevada, Reno West Stadium Parking Complex will begin this week. Two-way traffic on North Virginia Street will be pushed to the west side of the street to begin work on the east side of the new roundabout.
- Demolition of the buildings located on the east side of Virginia Street between Eighth Street and Ninth Street is in process. According to the RTC, construction work associated with building demolition will generally take place Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., although could go as late as 7 p.m. on some days and could include some Saturday work. The demolition in this area will make way for roadway widening, a transit station, a bus lane, a shared bike lane and wider sidewalks.