Metro group should help keep basin transportation plans in motion |

Metro group should help keep basin transportation plans in motion

by Andy Bourelle

Transportation planning in the Lake Tahoe Basin is changing. And with that change, of course, comes a new acronym.

Even though the transportation subject in the basin already is full of acronym-using agencies – such as TRPA, TTD, TNT/TMA, SS/TMA, TART, STAGE, NDOT – Lake Tahoe officials believe the implementation of the TMPO – Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization – will actually coordinate rather than confuse the issues.

“The MPO is not so much an entity as it is a process,” said Richard Wiggins, the manager of transportation issues for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Tahoe Transportation District and TMPO. “MPOs are typically a big deal around America. For us at the basin, with getting the MPO by way of federal legislation – any time you get that kind of special language in federal legislation is a big deal. It will have an impact.”

In addition to coordinating management, the designation is expected to bring in several hundred thousand additional dollars to Lake Tahoe for use in transportation planning and projects.

It all started with President Clinton’s visit to Lake Tahoe in 1997. While not a commitment outlined from the presidential forum, Tahoe’s ability to become an MPO came out of the summit. Typically only urbanized areas with populations surpassing 50,000 are designated as MPOs, and Tahoe’s designation is special.

“We’re not an urbanized area. We have over 50,000 people in the basin, but they’re spread out all over the lake. We didn’t meet the density requirements of the census bureau. But we have such sensitive transportation issues even though we don’t meet the other requirement,” Wiggins said. “The 1997 presidential summit elevated the federal interest in Lake Tahoe and led to the federal designation.”

An MPO Implementation Working Group – composed of TRPA, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Lake Tahoe Transportation and Water Quality Coalition and Lake Tahoe government and transportation agencies – met for months to define the structure, look at legal issues, develop the documents needed to implement the designation and essentially decide if it was the right thing to do for Tahoe.

The group decided it was, not only because of the organization it would bring to Tahoe’s transportation planning but also because of the money. The TMPO designation is expected to bring about $250,000 more to Tahoe transportation planning each year than would have come without it. Anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 also is expected to come annually for projects.

The structure for the TMPO that the working group came up with was to have the governing board of TRPA, Lake Tahoe’s bistate regulatory agency, act as the TMPO board, with one additional member. That person will be a representative from the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

With some changes, the Tahoe Transportation District, an agency created out of TRPA’s compact, will act as a Tahoe Transportation Commission, a management team. It will be made of the six local government members of the TTD, one member of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, one member of the South Shore Transportation Management Association, one at-large TTD member, one representative from the Forest Service, one representative of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and one at-large citizen. Also, one member each from the Nevada and California departments of transportation will be non-voting members of the TTC.

TRPA staff also is becoming staff for the TTD and TMPO, and the additional funds coming in from the designation will give TRPA an opportunity to expand that staff. While just a few employees typically deal with transportation, up to six more positions likely will be created.

“Our staff will serve all of them,” Wiggins said. “It made sense – since TRPA has the offices, the financial capability and staff – rather than build all that somewhere else.”

By the end of 1998, both outgoing governors of Nevada and California supported the designation along with all of the local governments. Last month, TRPA’s governing board took action to establish the TMPO.

So now what?

“Things are happening now,” Wiggins said. “We’re just not 100 percent yet. I want to move quickly, but I don’t want to move so fast we miss something.”

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