Highway committee faces long, expensive road | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Highway committee faces long, expensive road

Sally J. Taylor

Expecting a long road to secure funding to improve U.S. Highway 50, the ad hoc Highway 50 Committee took a step on Friday.

About two dozen concerned business and community leaders from Stateline to Placerville met at Strawberry Lodge to hear a report on highway plans and needs from California Department of Transportation officials.

Though Caltrans can pursue some existing funding sources, the highway department cannot lobby for additional funding, Irene Itamura, Caltrans district 3 director, told the group.

“The persistence of this group is what will make a difference,” said Stan Hansen, vice-president of planning and governmental affairs for Heavenly Ski Resort.

Though still in the formative stages of its own development, the committee made plans to quickly develop a letterhead and to draft a letter to send to Washington, D.C. with Assemblyman Rico Oller.

Hansen will organize the effort.

According to Nancy Lungren, Oller’s aide who attended the meeting, beginning April 28 the assemblyman will meet with Representative John Doolittle, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and President Bill Clinton.

To present their case for more funding, the committee is expected to emphasize the wide-ranging interest in improvements to the highway.

Businesses along the corridor in California and Nevada, tourists from California and beyond, and the nation as a whole have an interest in the artery to the national treasure, they said.

The focus on Tahoe is expected to increase in the next few months due the upcoming July Tahoe Summit, and in the next few years, due to 1999 Gold Rush Sesquicentennial celebration. It was pointed out that the two events could be a strong selling point for Highway 50 improvements.

To get the committee rolling, the South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County chambers of commerce will extend some funding and their organizational umbrella over the effort.

Ultimately, the committee should operate as a separate entity, said Michael Johnston, executive director of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce.

“It should run a bit outside of the chambers to let participation in the committee be open to whomever,” he said.

Seed money for start up costs is expected to come from the two chambers.

Johnston and Jim Rafferty, president of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, expressed confidence that the chamber boards would be willing to contribute $2,000 each for start up costs.

The committee will meet again in about a month.

“There’s a lot of money to be raised here,” said South Lake Tahoe chamber Executive Director Duane Wallace. “We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can move it all at once.”

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