Hitting the wall | RecordCourier.com

Hitting the wall

by Dylan Silver

The effects of the upcoming Highway 50 detour on the expected visitor boom during the Amgen Tour of California are unknown, but some businesses worry that it will blight the brightest spot in what typically is a slow month for South Tahoe tourism.

“The closure is horribly timed,” said Mike Murphy, who owns Roadrunner Gas Station in Meyers. “I was really disappointed when I read on Way2Tahoe.com that they could’ve started as early as April 15.”

The start date was pushed from April 15 to the first week of May because of storms and high wind, Caltrans spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman said. The project was pushed back again from the earliest weather-permitted start date of May 1 because the first round of form liners, which determine the look of the new rock wall, had too sharp of corners and did not pass muster with one of the agencies charged with approving them, Shoopman said.

The four agencies who have to approve the form liners are Caltrans, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, U.S. Forest Service and the California Office of Historic Preservation. Shoopman would not say which agency did not approve the first round of form liners. The May 11 start date was chosen because that is when the form liners with more rounded corners can be finished and delivered, Shoopman said.

The TRPA rejected the first form liners on April 18 because they would’ve created a rock wall that did not preserve the qualities of the existing historic barrier, spokesman Jeff Cowan said. The contractor, C.C. Myers, built the form liners using artist renderings of the new wall rather the existing historic rock wall, he said.

The California State Historic Preservation Office made the recommendation that the historic look and design of the rock wall be maintained. After that, it became TRPA’s requirement as we are the designated historic preservation agency in the Basin and Cal SHPO was not involved in the permitting or review of the wall after their initial assessment, Cowen said.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Cowan said. “They were not doing what was required.”

The problem lies with the communication between Caltrans and the contractor, he said. The TRPA did everything it could to save the contractor time, he said. The TRPA was also willing to issue a grading season exception to allow work to start in April, but the weather forced Caltrans for forgo an early start, Cowen said.

“TRPA staff share in the excitement of this race coming to Tahoe and the Agency has made every possible effort to permit the Echo Summit historic rock wall project in a way that would not interfere with the AMGEN weekend,” TRPA Community Liaison Jeff Cowen said. “We know how important the race is to our communities and did our part to meet deadlines and to preserve this important piece of Tahoe’s history with Caltrans.”

Lauren Lindley, a manager at the Pearl Izumi factory store at the “Y,” said the closure could cost her thousands in revenue, but it’s hardly a surprise that it will fall across the bicycle event.

“I hope that the lack of traffic due to the closure does not affect the city’s current love affair with promoting cycling tourism, as it’s something that I feel very strongly about,” Lindley wrote in an e-mail.

The Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, Sen. Ted Gaines , R-Roseville, and Caltrans had a conference call May 2 to discuss the timing of the closure. Caltrans did offer to move the start of the closure back to May 16, said South Shore chamber executive director Betty “B” Gorman. After thinking it over and inviting input from a number of lodging and business interests, the group decided to continue with May 11.

“We believe it was the wisest decision based on what was placed in front of us,” Gorman said.

Overlapping the closure with the Tour of California was weighed against having it coincide with Memorial Day. That the May 11 start date had already been announced through a variety of media in a number of locations was also a factor, Gorman said. But either way, for South Shore businesses, there was going to be an impact.

“There really was no win for us anywhere,” Gorman said. “We lost our win when the work wasn’t started last week.”

But instead of “crying over spilled milk,” the Chamber is focusing on how to promote the detour as a scenic drive and how to help businesses lessen the impact of the closure Gorman said.

“It is what it is,” she said. “We have to move forward from this point.”

The chamber and the LTVA are using radio, iPhone, newspaper, social media and press releases to mitigate the effect of the highway closure.

Gorman, Shoopman and LTVA director Carol Chaplin all said they believe an event as prestigious as the Amgen Tour of California would draw fans regardless of a 35-mile detour.

“The fans will get here,” Gorman said. “They will not not come because of the roads.”

Businesses on Highway 88 are looking at the closure as an opportunity. Though the lifts won’t be turning, Kirkwood will have its inn open.

“We are really excited about the closure,” said spokesman Michael Dalzell. “We see that as a huge business opportunity.”

A lot of people in the Bay Area don’t realize how beautiful the detour out Highway 88 and Highway 89 is, Dalzell said.

GaryAir, an air charter service that flies to Tahoe, is also eyeing the road construction as an opportunity.

“Having a plane stationed (in Tahoe) for both the Amgen and Highway 50 closure would cut down on costs,” said company vice president Dave Guerrieri. “I anticipate there would be a demand for that.”

There will be one-way traffic control on May 9-10. Six weeks of one-way traffic control will follow the detour. The traffic control will halt at noon on May 27 for Memorial Day weekend and will be finished by the July 4 weekend. The official detour, project updates and specials from businesses are posted Way2Tahoe.com.