In summary, the SouthEast Connector is a 5.5-mile stretch of road linking Sparks to south Reno, and as the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge nears final construction, the RTC is finalizing its application for its last major hurdle to begin Phase 2 of construction on the south end of the project.
The permit needed from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will be submitted later this month, after the RTC finishes gathering supplemental information to provide to the agency. The RTC received a letter from the USACE with 16 items to “focus on” in its application submittal, according to Project Manager Garth Oksol, as well as answering the public comments it has received. Oksol said although there is plenty of work to be done before submitting to the USACE, many of the items pertain to reorganizing information.
“One of the challenges we faced is the permit application is 700 pages,” Oksol said, “And some of the things they (USACE) asked for additional information on are in the permit, but the problem is, it is talked about individually in four different spots. We are going to take all of that and put it into a one-page quick hit and have additional information references to direct them to full detail elsewhere in the application.”
Oksol said he anticipates 60 to 90 days for the response from the USACE after submitting the application, which would set up an April or May kick off to Phase 2 construction. Currently, 90 percent of the design for Phase 2 is complete and the bridge is about a month away from being safely walkable from end to end.
The RTC plans to host a community meeting in late March to discuss the final design plans for Phase 2 and address any concerns from the public.
Jeff Hale, director of engineering for the RTC, said the letter from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent to the USACE did not slow the project’s progress and the concerns about wetland mitigation will be addressed in the application. The RTC will be removing and relocating about 22,000 pounds of mercury from its project site, and Hale said although the EPA desires more information about wetland mitigation, the RTC will follow a process that has been proven to work in northern Nevada.
“The (USACE) letter pointed out that the EPA did a cleanup of the Carson River Watershed mercury and they used the same method that we are using,” Hale said. “These practices to control the sediment have been done before and it wasn’t any ‘hazmat’ effort. We are not making this up, and that is the point we tried to make at our Special-Use Permit meeting in Reno. We are not the first ones out the gate with this approach. These are tried and true methods.
“(The USACE) received all the public comment and then they drafted their letter. They did not go to the depth the EPA did and we met with them and talked about their expectations, and we have a much better idea about how we are going to reformat this and what information we need to supplement and get back to them. They had that letter, considered it and crafted their own letter, saying what we need to focus on.”
Hale and Oksol agreed that a public misconception is cast during the permit application process with any agency the RTC submits to because of submittal and response times. Oksol has been the project manager on the SouthEast Connector for seven years and he said the input sought and received by the RTC began long before Phase 1 began construction.
“In the first two or three years, I was basically in an information gathering mode,” Oksol said. “I went to HOAs, concerned environmental groups, listened to them and gathered concerns to bring back. When we got to the point of advancing the project, we put out a request for proposals to consulting firms and we listed the things we needed help on.
“We don’t know about mercury and we don’t do any hydrology because we are civil engineers for transportation. We put that in there so they put together a team of experts to address all of the issues that were raised in the past. That’s what culminated in that 700-page document.”
As it stands today, Oksol said the project has moved swiftly given the unusually warm winter weather and Phase 1 is at 70 percent completion. He said even with the minor delay in the USACE permit, the schedule for Phase 2 design and construction should go as planned.
“We originally thought between two and two and a half years for Phase 2 construction, but Granite Construction is working on a schedule right now that would make it between 18 and 24 months,” Oksol said.
Lee Gibson, RTC executive director, said the SouthEast Connector is the largest construction project in the history of the RTC and it’s the largest locally funded project in northern Nevada. Hale called the completed work a “tremendous accomplishment,” and Oksol said there are moments on site where he realizes the scale of the project.
“There have been a few moments here and there where it has been quiet and I am out on the site and I can take it all in,” Oksol said. “But it doesn’t last long. I know we have another four and a half miles to go.”
Progress updates, application information and more about the SouthEast Connector project can be found at www.southeastconnector.com.