Focusing on collaborative, multi-agency projects and lobbying for more road and transit dollars for heavily-visited rural areas, the Tahoe Transportation District is trying to build partnerships to tackle extensive infrastructure needs, director Carl Hasty said.
Hasty updated the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board this week on the initiative, which has several components.
The initiative is focused on more quickly fixing road, parking and transit shortcomings in the Tahoe Basin, a rural area with a resident population of 55,000 that has to accommodate about 6.5 million visitors each year, many driving up from nearby metropolitan areas.
Projects include everything from better bike trails to improved sidewalks in cities so transit shelters can be put in as well as major, unfunded initiatives such as a $70 million Loop Road project in South Lake Tahoe, a $33 million State Route 89 and Fannie Bridge improvement project and an estimated $35 million project to start cross-lake passenger ferry service between Tahoe City and Ski Run Marina.
“Our system is not rural. It has to be able to handle that urban capacity,” Hasty said.
Transportation improvements also play a key role in major environmental goals that include reducing vehicle miles traveled, vehicle emissions and the amount of fine sediment and other pollutants washing into Lake Tahoe.
“You’ve heard us say early and often that transportation projects are perhaps our most important projects for threshold attainment in multiple thresholds, so we wanted to bring this forward,” Joanne Marchetta, executive director of TRPA, told the Governing Board on Wednesday.
Tahoe Transportation District is starting a planning effort to divide the basin into six transportation corridors and develop master plans for each of them, similar to the Highway 28 Corridor Management Plan that involved more than a dozen agencies. A request to hire a firm for that work goes before the transportation district’s board of directors in August.
The firm would be asked to identify needed improvements, determine what stakeholders could work together on projects, and how the six corridors could be linked in terms of physical improvements and transit services and integrated with communities outside the Tahoe Basin.
“What this corridor approach is looking for is how can we accelerate implementation of these improvements, taking a more comprehensive view, a more multiple-objective view to see opportunities that wouldn’t be seen otherwise,” Hasty said.
Hasty points to the Highway 28 corridor as one example. It sees about 2.6 million cars per year and has dangerous roadside parking conditions. The transportation district is moving forward with a more than $12.5 million project to build several miles of bike trails and improve parking in the corridor.
The district also wants to partner with the Incline Village General Improvement District, which plans to replace a failing sewage export line that runs through the corridor. Relocating the line from under the highway would allow that project to be coupled with a bike trail project that could further extend the trail to Spooner Summit.
“They would be able to get it out of the highway, so it would cost them less, and let us put a bike trail on top, which they would maintain as their access,” Hasty said, adding that the project could also install fire hydrants along the export line to help agencies fight Wildland fires with the treated effluent.
The district is also working on an ad hoc Trans-Sierra Transportation Coalition, a group of 11 rural and sparsely populated, but heavily-visited counties in California and Nevada. The counties have about 1.2 million residents but see many times more visitors than that and one goal is to better lobby for their collective transportation needs and for more reliable road and transit funding.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that if you collaborate and work together, you can have a larger, more unified voice and be more effective,” Hasty said.
Tahoe Transportation District wants road funding formulas changed so that more money goes to rural counties that see large influxes of visitors.
“We’ve got a lot of urban travel issues because a lot of people come through our areas. The idea of us being rural doesn’t fit the bill. We’re the playground of these metro areas,” Hasty said. “On an average busy day here we have four times the permanent population in visitors. All we’re asking for is to be treated like every other metropolitan area with these issues. It doesn’t answer everything, but it puts a little more certainty into the process.”
That search for funding also needs to focus on state and local resources, especially as the district tries to provide improved transit services.
A survey done as part of a Bay to Tahoe Basin Recreation and Tourism Travel Impact Study found a significant amount of people — more than half — said they would use or try transit systems developed in Tahoe and surrounding areas.
“I think our aim is to provide a true regional transit system, one integrated from the South Shore to the North Shore, built toward what other successful resort communities have. One that ends up being in most cases a free service and carries a lot of people. But we need an ability to pay for that,” Hasty said.
“One thing we do not have at the South Shore that most communities have is a dedicated local funding source. Most communities have a dedicated sales tax portion that goes to transit to provide a good part of the budget. Business licenses, sales tax, parking, revenue to provide that larger scale. We don’t have anything like that.”