It was all smiles and handshakes Wednesday as a pair of giant scissors snipped the ribbon that officially opened Truckee's two, dual-lane roundabouts.
The back-patting and congratulations were not only signs of a successful project that was years in planning, but also good harbingers for Truckee's quest to convert each major intersection in town into a roundabout. But to do that, Truckee officials will need the blessing of the state since as many as three of the future traffic circles would be on state highways.
"Together we learned a lot from this project," said Jody Jones, director of Caltrans District 3, following the ceremony. "I have no reason to believe we can't do it in other locations."
Jones, who oversees nearly 1,500 miles of state highways, was obviously pleased with the project that Caltrans was admittedly wary of since the planning stages.
"We were very skeptical about [the roundabouts] ability to solve the traffic and safety issues," Jones said.
But with traffic moving smoothly through the roundabouts, Jones and Truckee officials were visibly proud of the $3.5 million project.
"It turned out great," Jones said.
The project was a big one to tackle right off of the bat. Truckee's dual-lane roundabouts are the only ones of their kind in Northern California. Caltrans had originally proposed spending $750,000 for stoplights at the intersections. The Town of Truckee, which opposed traffic signals, took the $750,000 and, with the blessing of Caltrans, began the process of planning the roundabouts.
Now that they are functioning, both state and local officials are happy they don't have to worry about traffic backing up the Interstate 80 offramp and stalling interstate traffic, which was one of the arguments against traffic signals.
"The ramp is fairly short and on a busy weekend a light could have backed things up," Jones said.
Nevada County Supervisor Ted Owens, who was on the town council when the roundabout was approved, said Truckee took into consideration its community character when deciding to push for the roundabout.
"We didn't want to look like Walnut Creek at this particular time," said Owens.
The town is considering three future roundabout projects on state highways that would require the approval of Caltrans.
Meanwhile, just weeks before the ribbon-cutting, the town decided to alter the roundabouts to add a lane on the northern traffic circle. The move allows vehicles in both lanes to pass through the roundabout and head to Donner Pass Road. Construction staff realized the single lane going north had become a trouble spot and added a second lane.
"It wasn't working like we thought it would so we made the change," said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.
Apart from new roundabouts, Truckee's proposed General Plan outlines another large traffic project " widening Highway 267 between Truckee Tahoe Airport Road and Brockway Road to four lanes.
The four lanes will solve an "hourglass effect" on that portion of the highway and accommodate the hundreds of new homes planned for Schaffer Mill Road in the Martis Valley, said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.
The improvements will be jointly funded by the Town of Truckee and Placer County, Wilkins said.