South Lake Tahoe neighborhood divided on US 50 realignment
There are five project alternatives, including a no-build option. An alternative has not yet been selected, but there is a proposed version.
The proposed 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.
Opinions are split on the proposed realignment of U.S. 50 in the neighborhood that would be affected by the project. Some residents are rejoicing over the fact that it would take heavy traffic off of neighborhood roads currently used as shortcuts. Others are anxiously awaiting the decision on which alternative will be selected so they will know if their homes will be torn down.
Though the intention of the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, also known at the Loop Road Project, is to streamline traffic flow and make a more walkable, beautified downtown in the Heavenly Village area, it comes at a cost for some residents of the Rocky Point neighborhood.
Depending on which alternative is selected, anywhere between 68 to 76 residences would be torn down in order for the realignment to take place.
Tahoe Transportation District (TTD), the lead agency on this project, has made numerous commitments when it comes to housing.
The agency has promised no net-loss of housing, and TTD District Manager Carl Hasty has repeatedly stated that no roadwork will take place until the housing is replaced, preferably on one of three selected sites near the project area. More than 50 of the replacement units would qualify as deed-restricted affordable housing.
In addition, relocation assistance and compensation programs for both owner- and renter-occupied units are available and vary based on a number of factors.
Still, the project would have an impact on those who live in the neighborhood, which has a higher concentration of minorities and people below the poverty line than the rest of South Lake Tahoe. It’s a factor that is noted in the draft Environmental Impact Report, which is in the last leg of a 75-day public comment period ending July 7.
Despite efforts to minimize these effects, states the report, “the preliminary determination from [Federal Highway Association] is that the project would still have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income populations in the Rocky Point neighborhood.”
“The highway realignment and physical division of the neighborhood would change the character and cohesiveness of the neighborhood by displacing residents and substantially changing the visual character and ambient noise environment,” it continues.
Bill Martinez, executive director of South Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center, which serves the Latino and low-income populations, said he has heard a lot of concern about the project.
“There are many concerns from our community, and our immigrant community in particular, about the Loop Road Project. Where’s it going to go? Who’s going to be impacted? What’s going to happen to them?” explained Martinez.
“The housing stock in the area is substandard, and the replacement housing is definitely a benefit of the project, but nothing is written that obligates them to do that. It’s all in good faith. And historically, things have not always happened that were supposed to happen in this community.”
Further, Martinez estimates that the Rocky Point neighborhood is home to roughly 50 undocumented immigrants, none of who would be eligible for relocation assistance or federal affordable housing dollars.
Martinez also noted that he has concerns about there only being two points to cross the four-lane highway for the residents who walk to work in the casino corridor.
But that’s not the prevailing opinion of everyone in Rocky Point neighborhood.
Chonokis Road resident Steve Tancredy said the realignment of U.S. 50 will take the traffic off of his street which is now the “unofficial Loop Road.”
“In the afternoon or any holiday weekend, traffic backs up from Pioneer Trail all the down the street. You cannot get any sort of emergency apparatus up here. We can’t even get in our driveways. Then people get flustered and use our driveways as a turnaround. I’ve almost been hit standing in my driveway twice,” said Tancredy.
Cars also race down the street at speeds far above 25 mph, he added.
According to TTD’s data, in the summertime anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 cars a day use the road.
Tancredy’s neighbor Brian Moritsch is also an advocate of the project.
“We have a double yellow line that goes down our street. I live on a residential street with a double yellow line. What does that tell you?” said Moritsch.
There’s still a long road ahead for the project, which has to undergo more rounds of review and public comment.
After the public comment period ends on July 7, TTD will take time to respond to all comments submitted on the project. During August and September, the agency will review the final draft of the environmental document and select a preferred project alternative. October will kick off the decision hearing process for the approval of the project. This timeline, noted TTD, is subject to change.