By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Expanding the clogged and sometimes dangerous stretch of Interstate-80 between Sparks and the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center is a much-needed project that local taxpayers will probably have to pay for, said Lee Gibson, executive director, RTC of Washoe County.
“We are going to have to look to ourselves to fund that and ourselves being the Northern Nevada community,” he said on Nevada Newsmakers. “We will have to have a partnership with Storey County, Lyon County. We’re going to have to talk to NDOT (Nevada Department of Transportation.”
Gibson did not give a cost of a project but tossed out numbers of a “$30 million, $40 million, $50 million or $100 million project” during his interview with host Sam Shad.
Gibson, however, hopes to get help with any I-80 expansion from an unlikely source — California.
California may want to join the project because it is important to the California economy that goods from the TRIC get to Northern California markets without delay or mishap. Businesses at the TRIC include Tesla, Google and Switch. It is also a logistics hub for many other manufacturers.
“To me, the real cost is going to be the opportunity cost by California for not coming to the table and helping us move our products and our good efficiently to Northern California,” Gibson said, noting the North Valleys area also manufactures goods for California.
“The goods we produce here at the TRI Center, the North Valleys that we are shipping, have value in California,” Gibson said. “Yes, tourists come from California to Nevada and bring value to Nevada. But we are exporting value back to California and I think we need to leverage that because that opportunity cost could be much, much larger than just a $30 million, $40 million, $50 to a $100 million project to widen I-80 out to the TRI Center.”
Marybel Batjer, the president of the California Public Utilities Commission, who was raised in Carson City and served as Gov. Kenny Guinn’s chief of staff, “absolutely” would have a role to play in this, Gibson said, but did not expand.
Gibson called an expansion of I-80 “doable” and “design-able.”
“When I look at the long, long term, that is something that we’ll have to put on the table,” he said. “We can widen I-80 to the TRI Center, to Fernley and Fallon. Engineers I have talked to believe is is something that is design-able and doable.
“But to me, if we produce goods in Northern Nevada and we are going to ship them overseas and they get stuck in traffic over on the other side, how quickly do we lose our competitive advantage, our comparable advantage in being able to sustain our manufacturing base?”
Gibson, who plans to retire soon after a 30-year career in transportation planning, added: “If I am looking to tell an emerging professional in transportation what to lose sleep over, that’s the one I’m going to focus on.”
Gibson and other Nevada transportation planners have met with the California federal delegation He has not yet met with other California planners yet.
“I don’t know about the state and local folks,” he said. “But one of the things we did here a while back was the Assured Federal Framework and we actually met with the federal delegation on the other side of the border and I think we need to do that again and raise this issue because, the congestion, the delays, the challenges on I-80 in California will have a direct impact on them economically. It behooves both of us to come and talk about these issues.”
Gibson stressed the importance of the California-Nevada cooperation over I-80 expansion.
“That is the issue of the future,” he said. “That is the issue we need to deal with and this is a different animal, a different creature than just exchanging tourists back and forth.