Courtesy photo
A Fun Run, Bike and Walk preview event drew around 4,000 people Saturday morning on the new SouthEast Connector. The new road that connects Sparks and South Reno is set to open to traffic on Friday.

Thousands of people came out Saturday to celebrate the pre-grand opening of the SouthEast Connector, a safer and more efficient way to get to and from South Reno and Sparks. This is a project that has been in the works for more than 50 years and has now come to life.

The new roadway, formally known as Veterans Parkway, stretches 5.5 miles from the Greg Street/Sparks Boulevard intersection and ends at the South Meadows Parkway in Reno. The road is three lanes in each direction with a multi-use path for pedestrians and bikers that also runs the length of the project.

This idea was first proposed in the 1950’s and regained traction in 2007 when Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County and Stantec launched an alignment study in the Reno/Sparks valley corridor. Between 2008 and 2010, the RTC Board approved the SEC alignment project and decided to start right-of-way acquisition. Over the next few years, the RTC approved designs, contracts, and broke ground on Phase 1 of the two-phase project. In 2013, designs and plans were approved for Phase 2 which included the bridge construction and working with the City of Reno on obtaining special use permits.

Phase 2 construction of the project began in June 2015, however, heavy flooding and storms in January 2107 halted progress. When the weather got better, the project continued on and contractors including Kiewit and Granite Construction were able to finish the SouthEast Connector/Veterans Parkway in July 2018.

Around 4,000 people showed up to the June 30 Fun Run, Bike and Walk preview event and everyone was happy to see it finally open.

“The community was great, everyone was excited to see this open and it was amazing for the RTC, too,” says RTC Public Information Officer Lauren Ball. “People have been waiting for this for a long time, it’s so exciting that this is finally available,” she added.

“Incredible job by RTC Washoe in opening up the SouthEast Connector to the public. Thousands biked, walked, and ran the road,” City of Reno council member Naomi Duerr posted to Facebook.

Some of the goals of building the SouthEast Connector have been to help restore the natural environment, create jobs generating millions of dollars in economic return, and better connect people to their jobs in Reno and Sparks. One South Reno resident said that when he used to work in Sparks he always imagined being able to ride his bike to work and now it’s exciting that people can finally do that.

“This road was envisioned in 1954 and approved in 1964 and I was part of the committee that spearheaded to get this done,” says RTC Chairman and Sparks City Council member Ron Smith. “It’s a vital road for this area. This north to south connector will alleviate traffic on Highway 395, I-80, and McCarran and will save seven minutes from Sparks to South Meadows, 15 minutes roundtrip.

When I ran for office, I had three goals- to widen Vista (Boulevard), build the Pyramid-McCarran intersection, and build the SouthEast Connector. This region is growing so fast that other things will come up, but we’re doing it and we’re doing it correctly,” he adds.

Known as a strong advocate for infrastructure and transportation needs in the City, next Smith’s focus with the RTC will be to build a better connector from I-80 to Spanish Springs.

“There’s a lot of things goin’ on, it’s exciting. It’s our visions coming true. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve. It’s all good stuff, people don’t think we do anything but we’re always working on something,” Smith says.

The SouthEast Connector will officially open on Friday, July 6 to commuters at 9 p.m. and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. that morning.