County officials are meeting with Walmart representatives and state transportation staff to resolve a controversial traffic median for a new super store south of Gardnerville that competing business owners say blocks access to their locations.
County Manager Steve Mokrohisky sent a letter Oct. 12 to Rudy Malfabon, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, requesting NDOT work with the county and Walmart to allow appropriate access to Service Drive "to accommodate the needs of our local businesses while maintaining the safety of the driving public."
The issue came to a head at the Oct. 4 county commission meeting with local businesses protesting the 880-foot median along Highway 395 which seemed to be installed overnight.
In his letter to NDOT, Mokrohisky said the county was working with Walmart to correct the turning radius on Service Drive, but he said the businesses need access while the situation is being remedied.
Under discussion is temporary removal of part of the median with Walmart to allow trucks and equipment direct access from Highway 395 via Service Drive.
Mokrohisky said Tuesday county staff has been meeting with Walmart's engineer, attorney, and traffic engineer to discuss redesign of the median.
"We're looking at a short-term cut in the median. The issues we need to balance include access to the businesses which everybody wants while still maintaining safety of the traveling public," Mokrohisky said.
Existing businesses include a heavy equipment rental operation, and trucking company that must move their trucks and equipment via Grant Avenue and Service Drive.
"What we're looking at with the potential of a left turn and deceleration lane for Grant Avenue, does there need to be a similar left turn and deceleration lane for Service Drive, albeit shorter?" he said.
Any redesign must be certified by Walmart's engineers before NDOT would approve it, Mokrohisky said.
The county's role is facilitating the discussion between NDOT and Walmart.
"At this point, we're looking for everything to come back on the table," Mokrohisky said.
A possible solution would be to work in a phased approach within NDOT guidelines.
"The public and board have been clear about their concerns. It's obvious to everybody that the situation we have with the lack of access to Service Drive needs to be rectified," Mokrohisky said. "We're doing everything we can to mitigate the impact to local businesses as a result of the Walmart development."
He said Walmart was responsive to the county's request to re-evaluate the design.
"What we're trying to do is get the new NDOT director (Malfabon) to sit down with us and help move the situation forward," he said.
Mokrohisky said NDOT has agreed to activate the Grant Avenue traffic signal right after completion of road construction rather than wait until the 152,373-square-foot store opens. He estimated the construction would take three or four weeks. That would allow motorists to use Grant Avenue to access Carrick Lane and Service Drive.
In addition, U-turns will be allowed at the traffic signal.
And a sign below Grant Avenue will direct motorists to business access on Carrick Lane.
Mokrohisky said the county was willing to work with all parties on cost impact.
"We don't want parties to quarrel over the cost of making the redesign happen or construction. We're at the table to do whatever we need to mitigate impact to our local businesses," he said.
He called it a "no. 1 priority" in the short term with County Engineer Erik Nilssen working with R.O. Anderson in looking at the redesign.
"Folks are working very aggressively with the understanding of the critical nature and the timeliness of resolving some of the big issues," he said.
If there was a concern over construction costs, the county could authorize the road department to do some of the work, he said.
"We want to bring everything to the table from knowledge resources to a cost and labor standpoint to move this forward as quickly and effectively as possible," Mokrohisky said.
He said commissioners would hear a presentation Thursday and public comment and are agendized to provide direction to staff.
"Our commission has been actively involved in many of these discussions, working with various state officials to make sure we have NDOT at the table. There is no one entity in the position of unilaterally implementing any solution," he said. "All these parties have to be involved and willing to find a common ground for a solution."
Mokrohisky said the matter was being heard at the Lake meeting because staff didn't want to wait two more weeks for a Valley meeting to move the project along.
"Everybody understands that timing is of the essence. We will likely have updates at the Lake and Valley meetings and take advantage of every meeting to inform the public about what we're doing. In addition, Lake Tahoe is part of our community. We hear Lake issues in the Valley and Valley issues at the Lake. We do that to make sure the business of the people does not wait unnecessarily for the constraints of our public meetings. There is a clear sense of urgency," Mokrohisky said.
Douglas County commissioners to discuss Walmart median at Highway 395 and Service Drive, Thursday, Tahoe Transportation Center, 169 Highway 50, Stateline. The meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. and the median is agenda item no. 6. Information, 782-9821.