Reno and Transportation in the West

Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada-Reno Library.

Donner Summit Bridge and Donner Lake. This route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains was used for both the Victory and Lincoln Highways. The Victory Highway was completed through the area in 1921, while the Lincoln Highway was finished in 1927. The same route would later be utilized for Interstate 80, which was completed during the 1960s.

Courtesy of the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum.

Nevada Airlines.

From the beginning, transportation to and from the Truckee Meadows has been a significant theme in the history of Reno. The emigrant trails, stage roads, the Pony Express, and the railroad have all served to bring people and goods through the region. The transcontinental railroad, coming through the area in 1868, represented the most important event in the sputtering creation of Reno.

By the early twentieth century, a new means of transportation was making an impact on the development of the Truckee Meadows. The Lincoln Highway was established to provide a continuous, improved highway from New York to San Francisco. Federal aid for road construction was awarded in 1916, and the route through western Nevada and passing through Fallon, Sparks, and Reno to the California state line was set by 1921. A branch led south through Carson City and the communities along the Lake Tahoe shore. In 1927, completion of the Lincoln Highway, and the parallel Victory Highway, was celebrated with an exposition held at Idlewild Park in Reno.

With the establishment of the highways, automobile tourism became an economic force in the region, and by the end of World War II, easy automobile access to Reno's gambling halls thrust that industry into the forefront of the local and state economy. Drawn by gambling, divorce, and its beautiful natural setting, automobile tourists flocked to the area, and businesses catering to the automobile tourist sprang up.

Aviation also came to Reno during the early years of the twentieth century. Airmail service was established in 1920, and passenger service followed in 1927, just in time to accommodate the throng of divorce-seekers taking advantage of the new, more lenient divorce law. Reno's first airport was Blanchfield Field, on the site of what is now the Washoe County Golf Course. As soon as passenger service got under way and larger planes were used, it became clear that Reno needed a better airport. In 1928, Boeing Air Transport acquired 120 acres of land southeast of Reno on the Walts and Kietzke ranches and built Hubbard Field, which is encompassed by the present-day Reno-Tahoe International Airport. In addition to commercial air travel, which has from the beginning served Reno's tourism industry, military air facilities have been present in the region since World War II.

Transportation would later contribute to the further diversification of Reno's economy. Beginning in the 1960s, Interstate Highway 80, the former Victory Highway, was expanded across Northern Nevada. Although the interstate bypassed towns and depleted business on the old Lincoln Highway, it increased the benefit of Nevada's free-port privilege, a law dating to 1949 that provides a tax exemption to warehoused and locally manufactured goods.

In 1995, the Union Pacific Railroad filed an application with the Surface Transportation Board to merge with the Southern Pacific. The merger was expected to double or even triple the number of trains passing through Reno. Safety and traffic problems had kept pace with the increase in Reno's population, so a solution to the increased rail traffic was needed. The solution came in what has become one of Reno's greatest public works projects, the Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor, or ReTRAC. ReTRAC is a thirty-three-foot-deep trench that carries the two mainline tracks through town between Keystone Avenue and Sutro Street. Despite being controversial, the project has proven to be an economic boon to Reno's downtown core.

Further Reading

Myron Angel. History of Nevada. New York: Arno Press, 1973.
Mella Rothwell Harmon. Tracks to the Past, Railroad's Roots Run Deep in Reno, ReTRAC: An Historic Achievement. Reno, NV: Reno Magazine, 2006.
Phillip I. Earl. County Remembers Day Lucky Lindy Landed. Reno: Reno Gazette-Journal, 13 September 1987.

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