Residential development, entirely dependent on automobiles, has expanded well-beyond Reno's urban core - image - Brian Bahouth/the Ally

At yesterday’s Reno City Council meeting, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) provided an update on the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and asked Reno City Council members to provide recommendations on additional projects and specific priorities that need to be elevated in the “prioritization process.” 

The stated purpose of the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan is to identify transportation guiding principles and goals for the region. The document is intended to identify transportation investments through the year 2050 through a “community-based process.” 

Amy Cummings, RTC deputy director and director of planning gave the following presentation to Reno City Council during yesterday’s meeting. RTC maintains a web portal for providing comment on the RTP.

Fuel Tax Worries

RTC Executive Director Bill Thomas addressed Council and said that since 2010 and the inception of the fuel tax, revenue has steadily risen and that those dollars are the leading source of revenue for building new facilities. When society went into lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thomas said, people drove less and fuel tax revenue tanked. 

Thomas said gas tax revenue rebounded during 2020 but still was down about one half of a percent or roughly $1,400,000 less than the Commission had collected in 2019.

“The assumptions that we’re making in the RTP is that we will recover back to the trends that were done in the past, but it is an inflection point of uncertainty whatever the future holds,” Thomas said via Zoom.

The RTC presented a “fiscally constrained” RTP to the RTC board on January 15, 2021. Reno City staff worked with RTC to ensure a list of important city projects, in broad concept, were still in the plan:

Downtown Corridor – New development is anticipated to have a significant impact on traffic circulation. Capacity projects will be imperative to support the expected growth and redevelopment of our downtown core.

McCarran Blvd. – a cooperative agreement between NDOT and RTC to perform a corridor study on McCarran Blvd. is underway and is anticipated to take approximately 18 months to complete.

South Meadows area – The South Meadows Transportation Plan identified several roads that would be privately funded and these roads are now shown on the 2021-2025 proposed list of projects.

 Verdi area – RTC has a Unified Planning Work Plan (UPWP) study programmed for the Verdi area. All of the short-term and long-term projects within that plan should be included in the 2050 RTP.

University area – RTC traffic study supported the extension of East Ninth Street from Valley Road to Wells Avenue.

Councilmember Naomi Duerr said that there is a lot of development under consideration on the south side of the McCarran loop and was interested to know if the study of the McCarran corridor would take future development into account.

“The purpose (of the study) is to look at what the future of the McCarran loop should be and how it should function with so much change in growth and development that’s occurred, and the needs of the corridor are changing,” said Amy Cummings, RTC executive director and director of planning during yesterday’s online City Council meeting.

“So we want to take a holistic look at the entire McCarran loop and identify the short and long-term improvements, so that capacity is a coordinated series of intersection improvements? Are there multimodal improvements? And as you said, we always want to take a comprehensive look at stormwater management as part of our reconstruction projects,” Cummings said.

Councilmember Duerr asked about sidewalk and landscaping at the intersection of 3rd and Vine streets in Reno, but Cummings said most street-level plans have yet to be formulated.

Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said that she wanted to see specific plans before she voted to adopt the RTP. 

Four Guiding Principles Questioned

Cummings told councilmembers that there are four guiding principles for the RTP, safe and healthy communities, economic prosperity and innovation, sustainability, and increased travel choices.

Councilmember Brekhus said that ‘economic prosperity and innovation’ could be argued in many ways and that the plan needs to fully consider fiscal constraints in a post-COVID economy. Regarding sustainability, Brekhus said the RTP must account for its carbon footprint as a guiding principle.

“Sustainability, I think should be called that we are in a climate emergency. I don’t find that provocative. I find it realistic. And anyone who lived through September of this last year in Reno where we couldn’t go outside for days at a time without possible long-term health consequences, I think could accept that we, Reno, Washoe County, Nevada are in a climate emergency. And our weakness is this air quality, and what is the relationship of this plan to our air quality,” Brekhus said.

Brekhus noted that the word “equity” had been dropped from the guiding principles that RTC presented to Council in February of last year. She also expressed concern that the plan makes no provision for the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

“I hear so much about new roads, widenings, but I don’t hear a whole lot about maintaining the entire transportation network. And I know that’s one of the tenets of federal transportation policy, is maintain what you have before you expand, before you go new.

“I am just so sad when I look at how deteriorated some of our roadway conditions are in the areas I represent,” Brekhus said.

Council took no action on the RTP. Councilmember Brekhus summed up her comments on the RTP with skepticism.

“I’m not happy with the loss of fiscal constraint, ‘equity,’ and climate emergency not being guiding principles. Because what I see is a lot more sprawl inducement and a very expensive network we can never build.”

Amy Cummings said that RTC will come back to Council when the plan has more detail. RTC expects to publish the plan by May of this year.

Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and a career public media journalist. Support his work in the Ally.