Growth implies more traffic |

Growth implies more traffic

Gregory Crofton

A plan for growth recently approved by El Dorado County allows for 32,000 new housing units to accommodate the 81,000 people that experts anticipate will move to the West Slope between now and 2025.

The added residential development could mean more traffic and gridlock on Highway 50, the largest artery to the Lake Tahoe Basin, unless millions of dollars become available to widen the road.

Out of the 32,000 units of housing called for in the county’s growth plan, 14,500 of them were approved by the county Board of Supervisors more than six years ago, says Supervisor Dave Solaro, an elected official who represents the Tahoe-portion of the county and supported the plan.

What’s key to the new plan, Solaro said, is that it splits new development into different areas of the county instead of concentrating it in El Dorado Hills, closest to the growing Sacramento region, as has been done in the past.

“We want to preserve the agricultural aspect of the county,” Solaro said. “This plan protects biological and scenic corridors, open space and ridge lines. It’s in our interest not to approve a lot of housing and have houses cover the area.”

Opponents of the growth plan, called a general plan, argue that approval of any growth without first widening Highway 50 will make traffic congestion on the road worse than it already is.

“I used to live at Tahoe and travel up and down Highway 50 so I understand what traffic can be like and how people could choose not to go to Tahoe if it’s too hard to get there,” said Kathi Lishman, mayor of Placerville and member of the No Gridlock Committee, which opposes the general plan that was adopted.

Solaro said he is concerned with the possibility of gridlock keeping visitors away from Tahoe, but ultimately it is only Caltrans that can widen the highway.

“It has to do with state funding,” Solaro said. “All we can do is ask that it occur.”

Leslie Case, a spokeswoman for Caltrans, said she did not know if widening Highway 50 to eight lanes between the Sacramento County line to Cameron Park was a high priority project.

“It’s all subject to the California Transportation Commission funding,” Case said. “It doles out money that the Federal Highway Administration gives to California.”

Placerville is waiting on a $32 million Caltrans project to ease congestion around the city, Lishman said. It will add an eastbound lane where Highway 50 meets downtown Placerville and connect Placerville Drive with Main Street.

“It was delayed for two years because of the state budget,” Lishman said. “Now it’s supposed to start February 2005.”

The No Gridlock Committee has about 28 members. It includes Supervisor Charlie Paine, the only elected official to vote against the general plan.

The committee has already collected more than 8,000 signatures in an effort to get an initiative on a ballot that would allow voters to voice their opinion regarding the plan. If they reject it, the Board of Supervisors would then have to choose or craft a plan that allows less growth, Lishman said.

“We believe the general public needs to have the final say,” she said. “I can’t tell what they think, but we think an awful lot of people who live here like the rural lifestyle and are concerned the congestion is getting worse.”

The county is not allowed to change its ordinances to reflect the direction of the general plan until a judge reviews and approves the plan. County officials estimate that process will take three to six months to complete.

As far South Lake Tahoe’s growth being affected by the general plan, it really won’t, Solaro said. All the general plan did was formalize the fact that all planning decisions within the Lake Tahoe Basin are to be made by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, an agency established in 1969 to regulate development around Lake Tahoe.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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