US 50 Project draft environmental document released; public comment underway | TahoeDailyTribune.com

US 50 Project draft environmental document released; public comment underway

TTD district manager Carl Hasty speaks to attendees at the open house held to mark the release of the environmental document for the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project on April 24.

The draft environmental analysis for the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project was approved by five government agencies and released to the public on Monday, April 24, kicking off a 75-day public comment period.

The two-volume report totals nearly 1,000 pages and examines all potential impacts of the five project alternatives. Both Nevada and California divisions of the Federal Highway Administration, California Department of Transportation, Nevada Department of Transportation and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency examined the report, which was prepared by the Tahoe Transportation District (TTD).

"Right now what we have is a proposed project and four other alternatives to it. The proposed project is alternative B," explained Carl Hasty, TTD district manager, during an open house at Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel on Monday.

Alternative B would realign U.S. 50 starting from a new Pioneer Trail intersection west of the existing intersection. The route would proceed along Moss Road, turn east onto Montreal Road, and continue along Lake Parkway behind Heavenly Village. It would end at a new two-lane roundabout at the existing U.S. 50/Lake Parkway intersection in Nevada. This alternative would create four, 11-foot travel lanes and a pedestrian bridge over the widened roadway connecting Van Sickle Bi-State Park and Heavenly Village.

Additionally, the new "Main Street" running through the casino corridor would be reduced to one lane in each direction, with landscaped medians, bike lanes, larger sidewalks and left-turn pockets on major intersections and driveways.

Three sites have been identified within the project site to replace the approximately 75 residencies that would be torn down in order for this realignment to take place. A recent announcement by TTD, however, revealed that private partners have come forward with proposed projects that could put the number of affordable housing units at 200 or more. The agency has committed to replacing the housing before progressing to other parts of the project.

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Alternatives C and D are slight variations on B, while alternative E would keep U.S. 50 as is, but create a 75-foot wide concrete skywalk over the highway in the casino corridor. Alternative A is a no-build option.

PUBLIC OPINION

Over the course of the public comment period, residents will have the opportunity to attend informational meetings about the project alternatives (the first presentation is at the May 2 South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting) and relay their comments during public hearings (beginning on June 9 at the TTD Board of Directors meeting). Questions and comments can also be emailed at any time to suggestions@us50revitalization.org.

From July to August, TTD will respond to all comments submitted on the project, and from August to September, the agency will review the final draft of the environmental document and select a preferred alternative. October will kick off the decision hearing process for the approval of the project. This timeline, noted TTD, is subject to change.

At the open house held to mark the release of the project's environmental document, opinions on the project were varied.

"My concern is very simply, very basic," said John Cefalu, a South Lake Tahoe real estate developer and proponent of the Let Tahoe Decide movement, which sought to allow residents to vote on any input the city of South Lake Tahoe had on the project. "How is the economy in the center of South Lake Tahoe going to realize any real economic benefit from the project that is going to drive people right to Stateline?"

Though the measure put on the ballot by Let Tahoe Decide was passed in November's election, a judge ruled in January that the measure was "fundamentally flawed," "unconstitutional," and "unenforceable." Local lawyer Bruce Grego filed an appeal of this ruling in March.

South Lake Tahoe resident Ed Moser, a frequent commenter at City Council meetings, argued that the traffic issue is not big enough to warrant a project like this.

"I think it's the biggest waste of money," said Moser. "You have your crunch times, but any resort towns or coastal towns, they all have traffic problems."

Marci Deerfield, a resident of Fern Road, said she understands the need for the project, but is concerned about which alternative they would choose. The future of her home depends on it.

"If they go with the new version of D, basically my life gets torn apart, so I'm not happy," said Deerfield, who built her home back in 2002 and moved from the Bay Area to retire here nine months ago. Alternative D would necessitate the demolition of her property.

"If they go with version B, I can live with it. But I am concerned with B because of the affordable housing that they are talking about. Right now Fern is a nice quiet cul-de-sac, and with the way they have the routings there, it's going to turn into a zoo with traffic coming up and coming down, but at least I'll have my house."

On the other hand, some residents in the neighborhood near the project site say it will help ease the constant traffic they encounter from drivers taking shortcuts to Pioneer Trail.

"I love the project," said Brian Moritsch, a resident of Chonokis Road. "I basically live on a freeway. Everyone's cutting through. On certain days, especially on the high-volume weekends, I have an hour backup on my street. I get people turning around in my driveway at a rate of two a minute. This will take the traffic off my street."

Doug Clymer, who has an office in the casino corridor, said he sees the need for the project every day when he looks out at U.S. 50.

"I see how people abuse pedestrian crossings and cars abuse that corridor, and I just think it's too congested," explained Clymer. "When you have all these people coming up here using their cars, this will lighten up the whole area with the village, the casinos. It will make it more user-friendly for the tourists and local people."

Tim Fajen, a resident of Shepherds Drive, said he would also benefit from the reduction in traffic on his street. Additionally, he is excited about the project bringing back the opportunity for the casino corridor to be blocked off for large outdoor events.

"I'm all for the project. I think what they've done is a tremendous job, and it's going to do good things for traffic and for the beautification of the area," said Fajen.

The U.S. 50 Project environmental document can be found at http://www.tahoetransportation.org/us50. It can also be viewed at the South Lake Tahoe and Zephyr Cove libraries and TTD and TRPA offices.

The public comment period ends July 7.