TRPA approves Loop Road alignment
Lake Tahoe’s lead regulatory agency unanimously approved a controversial highway realignment project on South Shore on Thursday, but several significant requirements will need to be met before construction starts.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board approved the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project after more than seven years of planning. The project, frequently referred to as the Loop Road, will realign U.S. 50 behind the Stateline casinos and Heavenly Village.
The project has been touted for its environmental benefits and its intent to create a walkable core in the Stateline area by realigning the 1-mile stretch highway. The current U.S. 50 would become a two-lane street with expanded sidewalks and bike lanes, enhanced transit services, streetscape improvements and sites for infill redevelopment.
“This has the ability to be transformative for the downtown area here,” Board Chair Jim Lawrence noted prior to the vote.
Numerous speakers, many from South Shore’s largest employers, advocated for the project Thursday.
However, the project, through various iterations over the years, has not been free of controversy. Residents have voiced concerns and criticism ranging from the project being a massive play by Nevada business interests, to funding, to the impact on surrounding neighborhoods, to loss of housing.
The various controversies fueled the creation of 2016’s Measure T, a citizen-initiated ballot question in South Lake Tahoe that required all city decisions on the proposed project to be put to a vote of city residents.
The measure passed with more than 60 percent of the vote in November 2016.
Jason Collin, who was elected to City Council in that same election, had filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the measure off the ballot. A judge allowed Measure T to stay on the ballot but then concluded months after the election that the measure was “fundamentally flawed,” “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”
Residents Bruce Grego and Laurel Ames then appealed the decision to the California 3rd District Appellate Court. Oral arguments were heard earlier this month.
Several speakers Thursday noted the Measure T issue. Speaking on behalf of the South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, former South Lake Tahoe City Manager David Jinkens told the TRPA board that it needed to respect the will of South Lake Tahoe voters.
Grego himself also noted the ongoing litigation regarding Measure T, and pointed out several perceived flaws with the final plan. Specifically, Grego said the project mentions parking but does not go into great detail. The plan “has not addressed the parking issue with any substance,” Grego told the board.
He also said the plan’s dependency on an effective and sustainable public transportation system could be an issue, mainly because South Shore has been unable to create such a system to date.
Those two points were also mentioned by Shelly Aldean, Carson City’s representative on the governing board. Aldean asked about the public transportation issue prior to Grego’s remark.
Tahoe Transportation District Manager Carl Hasty said changes underway are already working to move the district to sustainability.
On parking, Aldean said people have an instinct to look for free parking — something that has become increasingly difficult to find in the Stateline area. Without addressing the issue in the future, there could be a situation where people park in nearby neighborhoods and walk to the core area.
Ultimately though, Aldean joined her fellow board members in approving the project.
For some, the project represented years of work. Outgoing Douglas County Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who was prevented from seeking re-election due to term limits, said the project was long overdue.
“When you have transportation projects that can transform your community, it benefits every single person in that community whether they’re impacted right now or whether it’s outlying,” she said.
“I agree, doing nothing is in itself a decision and not a decision that benefits the lake, the environment, the economy or the community.”
Outgoing South Lake Tahoe City Councilor Austin Sass, who lost his bid for re-election, also noted the various benefits of the project, adding that he has not heard from a single constituent opposed to the project — other than the two who spoke Thursday or were mentioned by the speakers — in the last six months.
“Looking at the project I just don’t see the downside. I see only upside here,” Sass said prior to making two of the three motions needed to approve the project.
McDermid, choking back tears, made the third and final motion.
Before construction can actually start, several critical issues must be addressed.
To compensate for the destruction of 76 housing units, the transportation district has agreed to build 109 housing units — 102 of which will be deed restricted for low-income people and the other seven will be deed restricted for moderate-income people.
Of the 109, 76 will need to be constructed before the start of the project. The other 33 will be constructed concurrent with the project.
TTD says it will continue to collaborate with potential partners to try to reach the ultimate goal of 200 new affordable housing units.
The project also requires the creation of a “main street management plan” to guide the vision for the future main street in the current U.S. 50 alignment. The plan will be created with input from adjacent property owners, the public and management agencies. Ultimately it will have to be approved by TRPA.
Officials also must create an “amenities plan” for the nearby Rocky Point neighborhood, located off Pioneer Trail near the intersection with U.S. 50. The plan will cover amenities like parks and green space, sidewalks, lighting and more. It must be approved by TRPA before the overall project moves forward.
TTD will begin the planning process for the project in January.
“We look forward to continued collaboration with the community as we move forward to build new affordable housing and create a complete, multimodal street environment, as envisioned in community plans,” Hasty said in a statement issued after the meeting.