October 13, 2014 – 4:58pm

The Nevada Transportation Department will develop a state highway in Northern Nevada a year ahead of schedule to provide better access to the industrial park where the $5 billion Tesla battery Gigafactory will be built.
The State Transportation Board on Monday unanimously approved a $70 million design-build project for State Highway 439, also known as USA Parkway east of Reno in Storey and Lyon counties.

Board members stressed that moving the project up on the priority list would have no impact on funding for highway projects in Southern Nevada. As if to emphasize that point, board members from Southern Nevada made the motion and seconded it for board action.

Developing the USA Parkway has been in the department’s plans since 2011, well before the Tesla Motor Co. considered building its lithium ion battery plant in Nevada. However, the state wants to expedite the project to provide access to construction workers as soon as possible.

USA Parkway already consists of 5.4 miles of four-lane highway south from Interstate 80. The parkway extension would add 21 miles to U.S. Highway 50 to provide access from Lyon County, which has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Extending USA Parkway to U.S. 50 will give better access to workers as well as employees of the 110 companies in the 107,000-acre industrial park who live in Yerington, Dayton, Stagecoach and Carson City. Currently, workers from those locations must access the area from I-80, either through Fernley on U.S. Highways 50A and 95A or through Reno via Interstate 580.

Board members characterized the project as an economic development effort. The $70 million project, which includes some improvements to the existing highway and to portions of U.S. 50, and would be paid for with state highway funds over two fiscal years.

A portion of the funding would come from highway repaving and rehabilitation projects in Northern Nevada to be delayed a year.

Environmental impact studies on alternate routes began three years ago and will be reviewed for final approval in coming weeks. A decision document giving environmental approval is expected by year’s end. The state hopes to complete work by the end of 2017.

John Terry, assistant director of engineering, said the project has one of the highest benefit-to-cost ratios of any highway program in the state at 9-to-1, mostly because of the economic development benefits.
Board member Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, said his office has received 18 inquiries from companies considering locating in Southern Nevada since Tesla announced plans to build the Gigafactory in the state.

In other business, the board received two briefings on projects important to Southern Nevada.
Project Neon, the planned expansion and redesign of the Spaghetti Bowl interchange of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95, is about one month ahead of schedule and requests for qualifications from prospective bidders are due Nov. 20.

An update on the project is expected to be delivered to the state’s Interim Finance Committee on Nov. 22 and construction is still expected to begin in 2016.

About $12 million in right-of-way payments already have been made for property along the project’s periphery.
The board also was briefed about an Oct. 21 public meeting in Boulder City to explain a report on the presence of naturally occurring asbestos on the construction route of the planned Interstate 11 Boulder City bypass. That meeting will include explanation of how workers will mitigate the effects of working in construction zones where asbestos has been found.

The meeting, at the Elaine K. Smith Center in Boulder City, will be conducted from 4-7 p.m., with a formal presentation at 5:30 p.m.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.