South Lake Tahoe loop revitalization plan gaining traction with public outreach
Whether it’s for ski season or summertime recreation, a host of successful tourism destinations in the U.S. have one thing in common — a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown. It’s an area where a number of South Shore transportation officials, tourism promoters and city officials have said that South Lake Tahoe and neighboring Stateline fall woefully short.
That’s the primary focus behind the ongoing Loop Road plan, officially known as the South Shore Community Revitalization Project. The project is being led by Tahoe Transportation District.
Tahoe Transportation District took another step in its effort to promote the project by hosting an open house Jan. 26 at Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. The meeting was the second of its kind since December.
Currently in the early planning stages, the project has been narrowed to four potential options, along with a fifth no-build plan. Of those plans, two primary options have been described as more likely.
Both include Highway 50 being rerouted behind Heavenly Village. One plan has the loop returning to the original highway route close to the Raley’s grocery store near Stateline. The other has the route headed farther into existing South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods along Moss Road.
Along with the proposed reroute of the highway, the existing Highway 50 casino corridor would be reduced from four lanes to two in each of the two primary plans. The result, TTD planners say, would be a more vibrant, business and pedestrian friendly downtown region.
“I want to see it happen,” said Steve Tancredy, a longtime second-homeowner in the area. “Right now things are so gridlocked in this town you can’t get anywhere.”
More than just a business issue, for Tancredy — who owns a house his grandfather built on Chonokis Road in 1958 — it’s a safety issue.
He said motorists currently use the residential road his house is located on as a shortcut to the existing Lake Parkway — often at dangerous speeds.
Sometimes, he added, “You can’t get in and out of your driveway (due to traffic).”
Others with homes in the area, however, would be displaced by a potential reroute and eminent domain claims.
The two leading plans would include right-of-way property acquisitions of 53 or 97 (depending on the route) predominately residential lots.
While property concerns have some opposed to the plan, a recent Tribune poll of 3,700 online readers showed 75 percent of responses favored the project.
“I think overall it’s been very positive,” said district manager Carl Hasty of the response to the project. “There’s a lot of interest.”
While there has been similar ideas proposed over the course of the last 25 years, project organizers believe it is closer to becoming a reality than ever before.
“This is the furthest this project has ever been,” Hasty said of the comprehensive design concepts as well as economic and environmental impact studies. “I think the project is very realistic. I think the timing continues to be right.”
One of the most significant factors in the plan becoming a reality is a recent amendment in federal policy. A provision in the $305 billion federal transportation bill — passed last December — re-classifies the Tahoe Basin to qualify for certain kinds of federal transportation funds.
“Instead of being looked at as a rural area, we’re now getting the full benefits of being a planning entity that we weren’t receiving before,” Hasty said. “It’s a big deal. That becomes a source of dollars for the project. It’s also going to be a source of dollars for the transit system.”
The South Shore Community Revitalization Project is currently estimated to cost around $64 million. Funding could come from a combination of state, federal, city and private funding sources.
Regarding a potential timeline, Wood Rodgers civil engineering firm president Mark Rayback said, “We’re five or six years from driving on it.”
His firm was tasked with project design plans for the proposed reroutes.
Hasty agreed with the potential time frame, saying that land acquisition would likely be the most challenging aspect of the project.
”I would expect that to be a couple-year process,” he said.
As part of a continued public outreach campaign, the City of South Lake Tahoe and the district will host a public forum 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10, starting at at South Tahoe Middle School.
“If folks have some specific questions that they have not had answered, that’s the time to get those questions posted and give us an opportunity to provide the kind of answers they’re looking for,” Hasty said.
The forum is expected to include speakers with examples of similar successful projects in other cities, as well as updates to the process.
Organizers are asking that public questions for the forum be submitted to the city in advance of the meeting, through the city’s website or by calling or emailing. Additional questions will also be accepted just prior to the meeting.
District project organizers anticipate that a draft of the environmental impact study will be completed around April. The draft will be followed by a 60-day public comment period and approval of the final document, which will include the recommended and preferred alternative plans. Those proposals could be finalized later this year. City, state, county, federal and regional planning entities would then review the plan for approval.
More information on the project and its potential economic impact is available at http://www.tahoetransportation.org/us50.