About 100 people circled through the Tallac Ballroom at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Wednesday to learn about and voice their opinions on the Highway 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, also known as the loop road.
It's a project that dates back to the late 1970s, when the approval of a casino expansion necessitated a loop road to handle traffic congestion. A 1985 Community Development Study Group presented its conceptual plan that established general parameters for the system refined through public input. Twenty-seven years later, groups continue collecting community input, while Tahoe Transportation District Transportation Projects Manager Alfred Knotts estimates that if all goes smoothly actual construction on the estimated $60 million to $70 million project wouldn't begin for another four to five years.
Like the first event on Oct. 30, the Tahoe Transportation District's second community workshop aimed to collect public opinions on various alternatives for realigning U.S. Highway 50 through the downtown core.
After the TTD compiles the information from the two workshops, the organization will solicit Tahoe residents and businesses to join the Community Review Committee that will provide input as the project continues.
"People recognize that the infrastructure is outdated and that the time is right to make some changes. The point (of the workshop) is to gain insight to which of these alternatives are most important to the community," Knotts said.
The project would transform the middle of town, he said.
"The whole length of our community is bifurcated by a state highway. This provides an opportunity for South Lake Tahoe to have a main street, a sense of place," Knotts said.
Maps of 16 alternatives, some of which date back more than 20 years, lay across a table in the Tallac Ballroom. Participants moved around the table, voting for the options they liked best by placing a blue gaming chip in a plastic box by the map.
In the most recent renderings, the highway would be realigned to the south of MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa and Harrah's Lake Tahoe. It would reconnect with what is now Highway 50 at or near the Pioneer Trail intersection.
Robin Westinghouse, a 26-year South Lake Tahoe resident, said she came to the workshop with no concrete opinions regarding the loop road. She thought the idea of collecting public input was a good one, and that she would support the loop road as long as it is built in an environmentally friendly way. Westinghouse said she liked the idea of opening up the downtown corridor to more foot traffic.
South Tahoe High School alumnus and Horizon Casino Resort employee Anna Siebaldi entered the Tallac Ballroom already in support of the loop road.
"I think that anything that can be improved upon is awesome. I'm always in support of anything that helps the community," Siebaldi said.
Some opponents of the project argue that the loop road will threaten local businesses by diverting the majority of the tourists away from the main corridor, but TTD Outreach Specialist Tiara Wasner said other communities like Monterey, Calif., have done similar projects to revitalize the town.
South Lake Tahoe City Councilwoman Angela Swanson recognized that the community workshops are self-selecting, but she said it's an important step in the process. The loop road would only be beneficial if it goes hand in hand with broader development, she said.
"The road doesn't solve anything unless it's part of a larger vision," Swanson said.