Guest column: Decision time approaches for US 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project (opinion)
For several years, the Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) has worked diligently to evolve Lake Tahoe’s transportation system to meet the region’s growing needs. Part of this effort has included resurrecting the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project to realize the redevelopment vision that has been in community plans for over 40 years.
As decision time approaches for the selection of a preferred alternative, TTD has been ramping up partnership efforts to ensure the community continues to see benefits long after construction is complete. The project goes beyond a road realignment to address improvements the community has needed for decades.
First contemplated in the 1970s as the “Loop Road” project, it moved through a number of iterations before TTD assumed responsibility in 2009. Since then, the District has been working closely with the South Shore community to ensure the project is executed to complete the vision of creating a destination where people can more easily access mountain and lake amenities, lodging, retail, and entertainment by foot, bike or transit.
Today’s U.S. 50 “Loop Road” project includes a significant focus on economic and community benefits, in addition to long anticipated transportation improvements.
Neighborhood amenities include a park, green space, sidewalks, street lighting, a new pedestrian bridge, bike lanes, trail connections, noise mitigation, and more.
Economic benefits include the addition of new workforce housing and a main street that improves access to local businesses, encouraging a destination stay by making it easier to stop, shop and hold events.
Commercial core enhancements aren’t just for residents and commuters, though. Boosting downtown South Shore’s economic vitality requires capturing the visitor. Research conducted to develop the Linking Tahoe: Transit Master Plan confirmed that the highest proportion of Tahoe Basin visitors arrive via U.S. 50.
With an estimated 9.3 million visitors entering the basin in 2014, the community stands to benefit from an infusion of visitor spending on retail, lodging, recreation, gaming and entertainment.
To be clear, economic benefits largely relate to capturing the spending of visitors already entering the basin by creating a pleasing, walkable South Shore environment where they want to spend time. Capturing a bigger share of visitor spending begins with direct purchases and flows into corresponding increases in tax revenues on both sides of the state line, which funnels into local jobs and wages to create positive economic impacts for years to come.
Since recent improvements have boosted the economic outlook for the project area, revenue and growth potential for the community is even higher than previously anticipated.
Additional investments in the project area are also creating momentum to address the South Shore’s overwhelming shortage of primary workforce housing. As a cornerstone of the project, TTD adopted a goal to construct affordable housing to exceed the replacement units required as mitigation for the project.
The preferred design alternative accommodates a significant number of affordable housing units, allowing TTD to increase the affordable/workforce housing provided through the U.S. 50 project to 109 units, 102 of which are deed-restricted, low income and seven moderate-income, surpassing the initial 76 units TTD committed to as mitigation.
Improved housing and retail opportunities, higher estimates for visitation spending, and synergies with the proposed local “main” street has intensified redevelopment interest in the project area to complete the vision first begun in the 1990s. With the goal of 200 total new housing units within the South Shore’s transit-oriented development areas, TTD has been collaborating with community partners, including the Tahoe Prosperity Center, Tahoe Conservancy, and Tahoe Chamber to encourage additional interest in affordable housing.
Low income restricted housing near jobs and transit helps ensure lasting affordability and allows people in the community to live where they work.
The updated economic outlook for the US 50 project reflects enhanced revenue expectations, anticipated regulatory improvements, and benefits from other public/private investments that have converged to create attractive returns that are expected to fuel continued economic growth in the area.
The project is estimated to generate $26.4 to $79.1 million annually in ongoing revenues from increased direct, indirect and induced spending on lodging and retail. This is above and beyond short-term revenues related to construction activity on the project.
The U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project is an important step toward addressing Lake Tahoe’s greater transportation needs. The project includes transportation services that make travel safer and more convenient, such as multi-modal transit and improvements to address traffic and emergency access needs.
This combination of services works together to create a connected transit system that benefits everyone and improves air and water quality because more than 70 percent of the pollutants impacting the lake’s clarity come from the transportation system and built environment run-off.
Improving the transportation system is critical to restoring Lake Tahoe’s water clarity and moving people, not just vehicles.
Carl Hasty is the district manager of the Tahoe Transportation District.