Nevada senator holds transportation roundtable with Tahoe stakeholders

Laney Griffo
Sen. Cortez Masto sat with stakeholders from around the basin on Thursday, Aug. 19, to hear their concerns on transportation. (Laney Griffo / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Anyone who has sat in traffic on Nevada State Route 28 for extended periods, or who use up gas while circling neighborhoods looking for parking, knows that transportation is a significant issue for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

These issues have not gone unnoticed by U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is invested in finding funding and solutions to the basin’s ever growing problem.

Following the Tahoe Summit on Thursday, Aug. 19, the senator hosted a roundtable discussion with several Lake Tahoe stakeholders in Sierra Nevada University’s Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences building. The meeting included representatives from Washoe County, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, state and regional transportation agencies, Tahoe Prosperity Center and League to Save Lake Tahoe.

At the beginning of August, the Senate approved the bi-partisan infrastructure bill. If the bill passes in the House, Nevada could receive $3 billion for infrastructure projects.

“We passed it out of the Senate and that was a big deal. It is a big bold investment, as many of you know, we need to get it out of the House and over to the administration,” Senator Cortez Masto told the room, adding that because of its bi-partisan nature, President Biden’s administration is on board with it.

“There’s great things in it for the State of Nevada and those projects, the money that’s coming into the state have been informed by all of you,” Senator Cortez Masto said to the stakeholders.

The senator then went on to hear from the stakeholders about the various projects in the works, the main issues plaguing the basin and concerns about addressing those issues.

“There’s really no model elsewhere that we could steal from and apply to Tahoe,” said Brad Crowell, Director, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We really need to come up with novel, innovative solutions that include a whole variety of transportation and transit options.”

Jim Lawrence, DCNR, bent the Senator’s ear on issues surrounding in-basin and in and out of basin transit. (Laney Griffo / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

When it comes to discussing solutions, more transit options is the best route to consider. The basin doesn’t have a lot of room for road expansion, and even if there was, run-off from the road negatively impacts lake clarity, making that a less than attractive option.

Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill, who represents Incline Village, pointed to the success of the micro-transit pilot program launched on the North Shore.

“It’s the most used micro-transit in the nation,” Hill said. “It’s a temporary system, the pilot runs until the end of September but it’s been a huge success.”

One issue William Thomas, Regional Transportation Commission executive director, pointed out was the need to change the perception of public transit and making it a more acceptable option for everybody.

Another issue discussed was the lack of transit options from outside of Lake Tahoe into the basin.

“It’s really a chicken and egg type thing,” said Jim Lawrence, Deputy Director, DCNR.

The question is, does the basin focus on in-basin transit first or in and out of basin transit?

South Lake Tahoe City Council board member Cody Bass, who also sits on the Tahoe Transportation District’s board of directors, has been outspoken about the need to look into high speed rail options, a case he made again for the senator.

He said with high speed rail lines from San Francisco to Reno being discussed, it would be a missed opportunity to not lobby for line connections to Tahoe, or at least transit from Tahoe to the rail stations.

Although the conversation focused on transportation, Heidi Hill Drum, TPC CEO, made a case for using some of the bill’s funding towards broadband.

While safety is one of the biggest reasons for broadband (the ability for quick, reliable methods of communication during emergencies), much of the new transit technology relies on broadband. The apps for microtransit, technology used for rideshare scooters, all need reliable broadband.

While the one hour conversation was informative, Cortez Masto said she wants to continue meeting with stakeholders on these issues. She also offered her office’s aid on securing funding.

“The exciting thing is that the collaboration already exists, priorities in the conversation about what we need to do as it pertains to transportation around the lake exists,” Cortez Masto said in an interview with the Tribune following the roundtable. “This is why I appreciate always working on issues that pertain to Tahoe because the community cares, leaders care, everybody comes together and they really focus on what needs to be done.”

She said there are still issues to be addressed, such as housing.

“The good news is because of the good collaboration here, that has informed me as a United States Senator to really advocate and put in resources and legislation and opportunities for us to address these challenges,” Cortez Masto said.

When it comes to getting funding for Lake Tahoe, Cortez Masto said there is collaboration between her and her colleagues in California.

“I credit that to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Dianne Feinstein because they really are the ones who started this collaboration and I have continued this tradition now of not just the senators from both states but congressional delegations, the governors and then all of the key players around Tahoe that are essential for all of us to really protect the lake and the basin,” Cortez Masto said.

While Lake Tahoe occupies such a small part of Nevada, the Senator still fights to get funding for that part of the state.

“Anybody who has any involvement around the lake, they are key stakeholders, small or large, it still has a big impact on our lake, lake quality, air quality, just the livable space around the lake and that’s why we all have to be partners together,” Cortez Masto said. “For me, and I think everybody in Nevada and California, but as a Nevadan I have no problem fighting for funding to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Act or to get additional funding we need to address the invasive species in Lake Tahoe or ensure we still have the pristine clean water and the research continues around this space or the investment around how we address wildfires and some of the other things.”

Still, the Senator is passionate about all corners of the state.

“What I love about Nevada, and I’m a third generation, it’s so diverse. We have urban and rural areas and even our rural areas are not all the same. The diversity of not only the people, the geography, number of businesses that are here, it’s fantastic,” Cortez Masto said. “For purposes of my advocacy, it’s equal across the state.”

Even though the conversation focused around transportation, the poor air quality due to smoke from wildfires surrounding the basin loomed in the background. Climate policy has been a contentious issue in the Senate but Cortez Masto is passionate about addressing those issues.

“Nobody can deny we have extreme weather here and we are seeing the impacts of that extreme weather and we have to address it,” Cortez Masto said. “So, for the purposes of my colleagues, and I sit on Energy and Natural Resources and I’ve watched as some of my colleagues on the other side of the political aisle have come to recognize something is happening and we need to address it. Whether they want to admit it’s a climate crisis or not, some of them are willing to make those investments and really address what they see happening in their communities and really to me, it’s about the solutions.

“Yes, there’s a climate crisis, we know it, I see it,” she added. “There’s extreme weather, its contributing to the wildfires, the drought and so many other things happening. You can call it what you want, let’s just be there together for the solution and that’s what I’m looking for, let’s find the solution.”

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