Tahoe Transportation District still awaiting environmental document for Loop Road Project | RecordCourier.com

Tahoe Transportation District still awaiting environmental document for Loop Road Project

by Claire Cudahy
ccudahy@tahoedailytribune.com

The US 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project has five alternatives, including the option of no construction at all.

The $75 million Highway 50 Loop Road Project is nearing the home stretch for approval of the project's alternative and environmental analysis, according to the Tahoe Transportation District.

As part of the administrative draft process, federal, state and local agencies are reviewing the five alternatives for the project, which seeks to realign the highway around the Stateline casino corridor, create a more walkable downtown, and replace old homes and apartments with new affordable housing units.

"That process usually takes awhile — a couple of iterations to take comments and respond to them," said Russ Nygard, district transportation capital program manager. "In this case, because it is bi-state, we have two different divisions — California and Nevada — of the Federal Highway Administration reviewing it, and we have both NDOT and Caltrans reviewing it in addition to local agencies and ourselves."

The "environmental document" that needs to be signed off on by these agencies is actually more like three documents — the California Environmental Quality Act, National Environmental Protection Act, and another drafted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, he added.

“Bad news, it’s taking a lot of time; good news, it’s getting looked at very, very thoroughly.”Russ NygardDistrict transportation capital program manager

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"So what we're trying to do by going through a very thorough review of different alternatives is come to an agreement through all the agencies that we have the right project to build and get that approval through documentation that there is clearance for environmental impacts and mitigation for what would be done for any impacts we do create," he said.

Though Nygard could not provide a specific date, he said the environmental document would be released to the public within the first half of 2017.

"We are almost there … We went through the second full iteration of comments, had very good discussions and meetings with those agencies, had a few more comments back in, and are addressing those," said Nygard. "Bad news, it's taking a lot of time; good news, it's getting looked at very, very thoroughly."

When all agencies agree on the project and environmental document, it's on to public comment. The district has agreed to extend this period from the normal 60 days to 90 days due to the size of the document.

"During that process we will hold, of course, several public hearings so that folks can come in and listen to the conversation, be presented the entire project, and have the chance to comment in person if they want to or in writing on comment cards," said Nygard.

The comments will then be reviewed and addressed, and adjustments to the project will be made as needed. All agencies must then sign off on the final environmental document. The document will be the necessary piece of the puzzle for TTD to begin raising capital for the project through federal and state grants, as well as public-private partnerships.

"The final project that will be constructed is a product of this process," said Nygard. "I personally do feel — and I've been doing this for a very, very long time — that this is actually one of those transformative projects that is going to be in the long run wonderful for the area, both on the transportation side, but also on the redevelopment side."

"It's only the beginning for us … We want to see improvements in other parts of South Lake Tahoe and great things happen all around the basin. So this is another project in what we hope will be a long list of successes."

A reference to a loop road at Stateline goes back to the construction of the Park Tahoe and expansion of Harvey's in 1972. One of the contingencies to the casinos was construction of a loop system to "divert traffic off crowded Highway 50," according to a story appearing in the Sept. 20, 1973, edition of The Record-Courier.

In 1978, Douglas County's portion of the loop road was opened, but stopped at the California state line.

According to The R-C at the time, the California Department of Transportation refused to allow the construction of the road's continuation into the Golden State.

Also challenging the construction were the Sierra Club and the California Attorney General's Office.