While many of the details remain unknown, the long-floated concept of a loop road directing U.S. Highway 50 around the back of Heavenly Village and South Shore casinos took a tongue-lashing Tuesday night.
The loop road, known in planning parlance as the U.S. Highway 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, would reroute the four-lane highway to where Lake Parkway exists today, using a new alignment between Echo and Fern roads. The highway through the casino corridor would be reduced to two lanes and slowed under the proposal.
Proponents of the project contend the loop road will increase safety, improve traffic flow and provide environmental gains, while being a key piece of transforming the stateline area into a pedestrian-friendly tourist destination. Reduced vehicle emissions and better storm water treatment are among the environmental improvements expected from the project.
Opponents see the loop road as a gift to Stateline casinos at the expense of the California businesses that will by relocated or bypassed by the new highway alignment. Residents of the Echo and Fern road area would also be displaced if the plan moves forward.
The Tahoe Transportation District estimates about 75 buildings would need to be acquired for the project to move forward.
About 60 people attended a special meeting of the South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday night to discuss the $70 million proposal.
Most of those who spoke at the meeting vehemently opposed the project. A handful spoke in favor.
"Please don't pursue the loop road at the cost of California businesses," said JoAnn Conner, president of the South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, echoing a sentiment expressed by more than a dozen people at Tuesday's meeting.
Two attendees said their retirements are at stake in the approval of the project because long-held investment properties would be eliminated by the loop road.
El Cerrito resident Marcia Deerfield said she is two years away from retiring to her Fern Road home. She said the current proposal would leave her "totally out in the cold."
"Basically, everything is gone," Deerfield told the council. She said minor modifications to the plan would save her home and her dream of retiring to a life as a ski bum. Details of a relocation plan are expected to be released soon.
Corrina Osbourne, general manager at Horizon Casino Resort, said the project is a key component of updating the South Shore's run-down tourist economy and making the stateline area a pedestrian-friendly attraction. She disputed the contention that the project will benefit Nevada and harm California.
"I want to make it clear this is not casino corridor versus South Lake Tahoe," Osbourne said, pointing to anticipated area-wide benefits of the project.
Following public testimony, City Council members expressed mixed feelings about the loop road, with Councilman Hal Cole saying he is concerned about proposal's effects on an already battered South Shore economy.
"How do you not impact those businesses?" Cole asked about stores, restaurants and hotels that would be bypassed by the loop road. He also questioned how the project could be completed without the use of eminent domain, something he said he would not support.
Cole said he didn't see how the council could approve the proposal without a detailed economic analysis of its impacts.
Councilman Bruce Grego encouraged the council to set a November deadline for a vote on the loop road, while other council members said they wanted to make sure all pertinent information was available to the council before the project comes up for a vote.
"It just seems like we don't have all the pieces as we sit here today," said Mayor Claire Fortier.
The design of the loop road project is only 10 percent complete, said Carl Hasty, district manager at the Tahoe Transportation District. Public input is critical to ironing out the details necessary to creating a successful project, Hasty added.
Completion of the proposal's environmental document is anticipated in spring 2013. If all goes according to plan, acquisitions of properties and relocation of businesses and residents would begin in 2014. Several years of construction would start in 2015 if the project is approved and funding is found.
The loop road proposal is funded through the permitting phase. The Tahoe Transportation District is seeking funding for property acquisition, relocation and construction of the project, Hasty said.
The project is separate from a South Shore Vision Plan - a concept that envisions the transformation of the South Shore into a recreation-focused tourist destination - but the loop road concept is a prominent feature of that idea. The vision plan is undergoing an economic analysis.
More than 20 options for a bypass at the stateline have been considered since the concept was first proposed in 1980, including an overpass and tunnel underneath the casinos.
For more information on the loop road proposal, visit: http://tinyurl.com/looproad.