Environmental studies begin on ‘loop road’ project | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental studies begin on ‘loop road’ project

Eric Heinz

The U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, also called the “loop road,” is in the infant stages of acquiring mandated environmental information.

Tahoe Transportation District, which is heading the project, has been working with analysis groups in order to move forward with the planning phases.

“Right now the alternatives are being analyzed in the environmental analysis,” transportation projects manager Alfred Knotts said. “Since some of the alignment changed, we have to go back out and do environmental studies, such as soils analysis, biological analysis, air quality,” and there are more.

The project has been tentatively priced at about $60 million to $65 million, with more than half of that intended to be used to acquire right-of-way access, which could fluctuate depending on the market values of land and feasibility of construction.

Knotts said there are avenues of federal and state funding the department will seek, but working with private investors is another route they may try.

“It’s really been re-scoped to be more of a revitalization project and holistic infrastructure project for bikes, transit, (pedestrians), more open, community space and traffic calming,” Knotts said.

The least environmentally-damaging project, Knotts said, is the “triangle” alternative, which possibly would utilize lots in the public domain the transportation department could acquire.

In April, the board passed a range of five alternatives including a no change, including one that would not change anything.

Alluding to the projects in 1991, Knotts said those plans were far too “overdesigned.”

“It had four or five lanes on the mountain side and four or five lanes on the lake side,” Knotts said. “That really didn’t look at the village concept of getting all this traffic out of there, calming this corridor and providing landscaping.”

Knotts also said freight traffic has congested traffic throughout Highway 50.

The goal of the project, according to Knotts, is to address traffic issues throughout the highway while maintaining an “aesthetically pleasing” area.

Ascent Environmental is conducting the analyses for the project. Some of the analyses are subject to time-sensitive protocols in order to obtain an accurate report and to not disturb any ecosystems.

“Once we gather the information in the summer, we’ll update all the technical studies, like drainage, noise, cultural analysis,” Knotts said, adding the department expects the environmental documents will be prepared within about 14 months.

Knotts said once the department has the environmental analyses, it can begin looking at a 20-year traffic scope. He said any “substantial” traffic change must be equipped with the two-decade scope.

With some of the preliminary planning of construction, there are more issues such as noise reduction and other factors with a highway coming through what are now primarily residential areas, Knotts said.

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