Tahoe Transportation District still awaiting environmental document for Loop Road Project
Tahoe Transportation District is nearing the home stretch for approval of the project alternative and environmental analysis for the long-awaited (and hotly debated) U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project.
As part of the administrative draft process, federal, state and local agencies are reviewing the five alternatives for the project, which seeks to realign U.S. 50 around the casino corridor, create a more walkable downtown, and replace old homes and apartments with new affordable housing units.
“That process usually takes a while — a couple of iterations to take comments and respond to them,” said Russ Nygard, transportation capital program manager at TTD.
“In this case, because it is bi-state, we have two different divisions — California and Nevada — of the Federal Highway Administration reviewing it, and we have both NDOT and Caltrans reviewing it in addition to local agencies and ourselves.”
Further, he added, the “environmental document” that needs to be signed off on by these agencies is actually more like three documents — the California Environmental Quality Act, National Environmental Protection Act, and another drafted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
“So what we’re trying to do by going through a very thorough review of different alternatives is come to an agreement through all the agencies that we have the right project to build and get that approval through documentation that there is clearance for environmental impacts and mitigation for what would be done for any impacts we do create,” explained Nygard.
Though Nygard could not provide a specific date, he said the environmental document would be released to the public within the first half of 2017.
“We are almost there … We went through the second full iteration of comments, had very good discussions and meetings with those agencies, had a few more comments back in, and are addressing those,” said Nygard.
“Bad news, it’s taking a lot of time; good news, it’s getting looked at very, very thoroughly.”
When all agencies agree on the project and environmental document, it’s on to public comment. TTD has agreed to extend this period from the normal 60 days to 90 days due to the size of the document.
“During that process we will hold, of course, several public hearings so that folks can come in and listen to the conversation, be presented the entire project, and have the chance to comment in person if they want to or in writing on comment cards,” said Nygard.
The comments will then be reviewed and addressed, and adjustments to the project will be made as needed. All agencies must then sign off on the final environmental document.
“The final project that will be constructed is a product of this process,” said Nygard.
With an estimated price tag of around $75 million, the final environmental document will be the necessary piece of the puzzle for TTD to begin raising capital for the project through federal and state grants, as well as public-private partnerships.
“I personally do feel — and I’ve been doing this for a very, very long time — that this is actually one of those transformative projects that is going to be in the long run wonderful for the area, both on the transportation side, but also on the redevelopment side,” expressed Nygard.
“It’s only the beginning for us. … We want to see improvements in other parts of South Lake Tahoe and great things happen all around the basin. So this is another project in what we hope will be a long list of successes.”
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