East shore Tahoe road closure just around the corner
On a normal day, Dan Wheeler leaves his driveway, heads up the Sierra foothills and enjoys a quick drive to work, with a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe.
Wheeler and his wife, Beth, are co-owners of Incline Jewelry in the Christmas Tree Village in Incline. The couple lives off U.S. Route 50, about halfway to Carson City. On a normal day that means a 20-minute car ride in the morning to Incline.
And, on a normal day, it means an easy 20-minute drive home in time for dinner.
Come May 3, normal becomes abnormal.
“My wife or I, one of has to be here; it’s not like we can just close the store for three weeks,” Dan Wheeler said. “I’ll be making a trip that normally takes 20 minutes that’s now going to take an hour and 45 minutes.”
Wheeler is referring to the upcoming road resurfacing project on Highway 28, the main lifeline from Incline to Highway 50. It’s set to be shut down completely to motorists for 12 days during a three-week stretch, forcing commuters to go the long way to reach their destinations.
While navigating the detours to make it to work on time is one issue, his other concern ” and arguably the worse of the two ” Dan said, is his staff. With one employee hailing from Carson and another from Gardnerville, it’s possible they won’t work for three weeks.
“I might lose two employees over this; it’s just not economically feasibly add three hours a day, using the gas to drive,” Wheeler said. “Then it could just impact business, too. I’ve got (customers) from the South Shore that aren’t going to make it up here during that time. It’s tough.”
Wheeler’s worries are shared by many who live or work in Incline Village and are preparing for the $5 million Nevada Department of Transportation project to resurface the road from Incline to the Highway 50 junction.
The three-week, 12-day closure presents the best-case scenario for everyone, said NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder.
“(Granite) just needs to get in and get it done before summer,” Magruder said. “If we just did traffic control (one-lane work), we’d be there until September or even October. Eight weeks is the best, and we understand of course there will be hardships.”
According to a 2007 NDOT traffic study, about 7,700 vehicles travel daily from the Highway 50 junction through Incline Village.
One of those many vehicles belongs to Zephyr Cove resident Claudia Andersen, executive director of Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation in Incline. Like many in the basin, Andersen has personal and business commuting concerns.
“The majority of our executive directors (at Parasol) do not live locally and will be affected,” said Andersen, who will be making the hour-plus drive around the West Shore. “To combat (the project), some may be taking a vacation, some will be looking for housing locally and some will be working from home and conference calling.”
Someone else who is avoiding extended travel time is Incline resident Dennis Oliver, chief community liaison with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
With TRPA’s main headquarters on Tahoe’s South Shore, Oliver will take the scenic route around Tahoe’s West Shore on Mondays ” then work the Tuesday-Thursday stretch of the three-week closure from his home headquarters in Incline.
“It just doesn’t make sense to spend 21⁄2 hours on the road each day when you can do the work at home,” said Oliver, adding TRPA’s Tahoe City Office, while closed for business, still serves as a satellite office.
From the business side, TRPA shouldn’t be greatly impacted by the closure, Oliver said, as only a half dozen employees, including himself, are affected. One decision already made, Oliver noted, is the May governing board meeting has been moved from The Chateau in Incline Village to the South Shore. This is a travel precaution and because the agenda doesn’t look to include any pressing North Shore business.
Oliver also said he plans to do much public outreach along the North Shore during May 3 to 22, attending public meetings, board meeting and other events to keep TRPA as a presence during the construction.
Other organizations locally and around the lake have had to make larger-scale adjustments. Two of the largest North Shore employers ” the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and Incline Village General Improvement District ” have been assessing the project since learning about it last fall.
IVGID has been coordinating travel plans and offering adjusted work schedules for its affected employees, of which there will be more than 40, said Human Resources Director Susan Johnson. The district also is informing employees of various carpooling options and working with the Tahoe Biltmore for room availability.
“We understand this is going to affect a lot of people, and we’re doing our best to be flexible,” Johnson said.
At the Hyatt, 30 employees will be impacted, said Hotel Manager Joe Mojica. Service-wise, however, the resort should run smoothly, as staff has worked for months to adjust their schedules.
The Hyatt will also use boat access to Lake Tahoe to ease transportation. The resort normally opens its boat pier around Memorial Day weekend; however, Mojica said the Hyatt is dropping its buoys around the start of the Highway 28 closure, making its pier available for cross-lake transit to South Shore commuters.
So far, though, no one has expressed interest, Mojica said.
The same holds true for the lake’s more visible vessels, said Austin Sass, Director of Sales and Marketing for Aramark, which runs popular tour boats the Tahoe Queen and MS Dixie.
“No one has approached us an asked if we’re interested in coordinating some sort of boat taxi or lake transportation program,” Sass said.
This isn’t the first time the idea of a boat taxi across Lake Tahoe has surfaced, said Sass, adding that even if interest piques again because of the road project, there are too many hurdles to clear logistically for the idea to work.
“Sure it may be an option, but the biggest thing with trying to do a boat shuttle across the lake is people need a place to park,” Sass said. “You’re going to have 50 to 100 cars that need to park at someone’s dock at either end of the lake.”
One Incline resident thinks, however, that the impending road closure could be the last straw needed to get people talking again about a boat taxi.
Betsy Miller is general manager of KRLT 93.9 FM in South Lake Tahoe. As an Incline resident, she too will be affected by the commute. To avoid traffic headaches, Miller said she plans to rent a room or stay in a cheap hotel for the three-week closure.
“I think it’s going to be a huge inconvenience, not just speaking for myself, but for all of us who do the commute,” Miller said. “I think this might act as a real wake-up call for all of us that there is a critical need for transportation alternatives in Tahoe. This project might be the start to put the wheels in motion to start talking.”
While the entire resurfacing project is scheduled from May 3 to July 2, the first phase from May 3 to 22 that affects an 8-mile stretch from Sand Harbor to the Spooner junction is the one that has people concerned.
Starting Sunday, May 3, the road will be completely closed beginning at 7 p.m., and will not be open to traffic until 5 a.m. Friday morning (May 8). That cycle repeats the following two weeks, with the road completely open from early Friday morning until Sunday evening, through May 22. The project’s second phase involves one lane of traffic control from May 22 to July 22 on Highway 28 from Sand Harbor to the East Lakeshore Boulevard intersection. Motorists can expect half-hour delays on weekdays during Phase 2.
although it also plans to keep the road open without delays on the weekend. Granite Construction Co. is contracted for the project
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