Tahoe officials tackle congestion, say wider roads not part of the solution

Congestion in downtown Truckee on Donner Pass Rd. Saturday, January 28, 2017. Huge amounts of snow have caused visitors to flock to the area, contributing to traffic jams.
Congestion in downtown Truckee on Donner Pass Rd. Saturday, January 28, 2017. Huge amounts of snow have caused visitors to flock to the area, contributing to traffic jams.

Lake Tahoe planners this week launched a planning process they say will reduce the need for visitors and residents to rely on cars, will ease bottlenecks and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the basin over the next 20 years.

In an expansive transportation planning report issued Wednesday called “Linking Tahoe,” officials with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency say congestion happens only in certain spots at key times, and needs to be managed with an environmentally friendly rather than car-centric approach.

“Tahoe’s limits on development to protect the sensitive environment mean that building new or bigger roads is not a solution,” the report states.

The expansive Tahoe Basin has a sizable permanent population – 55,000 residents – but that is dwarfed by its visitor numbers. A recent study found that an estimated 24 million people visit Tahoe each year, traveling in 10 million cars on a handful of two-lane roads.

Area officials estimate Tahoe will have access to $2 billion in federal, state and local transportation funds for improvements over the next quarter century. But they say it would take nearly $6 billion in that period to make travel flow easily year-round in the region.

Tahoe planners say they want to prioritize spending on bicycling, walking, and particularly transit, in coming decades, including creating a seamless, around-the-lake bus service so people who drive into the basin can park their car once and get around via other means during their visit.

Tahoe regional agency planner Morgan Beryl said goals include reducing bus interval times from one hour to a half-hour, and at times on 15-minute intervals, providing better bus links to airports, train stations and other key spots outside the Tahoe Basin to get more visitors arriving via transit.

That will include potential increased transit to and from Sacramento and Reno airports.

Beryl said Tahoe hopes to tap federal grant funding to allow transit agencies to provide bus service for free throughout the basin by 2021. That could cause transit ridership to double, she said.

Planners say they want to make improvements to improve traffic flow at congested intersections, often with plans for roundabouts, including one at Pioneer Trail and at Highway 50 in Meyers.

The plan includes adding 20 miles of additional bike and pedestrian paths by 2021, including paths from Camp Richardson to Emerald Bay to increase non-car visits to the southwest shore.

Among the projects either planned or being considered are a $44 million water taxi between north and south shores, $44 million to improve car, bicycle and pedestrian travel through the Fanny Bridge area of Tahoe City, and $74 million to realign Highway 50 through South Lake Tahoe and Stateline to reduce conflicts between through traffic and local residents and visitors,

The report, also called the 2017 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, is published on the TRPA website, Public comments on the project will be accepted until March 24 before the TRPA board votes in late April to formally adopt the strategy.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak