Guest View: South ‘Y’ intersection project is going to hurt more than help
This month, the city of South Lake Tahoe plans to put out to bid a project it calls “South ‘Y’ Intersection Improvements.” The project plans call for adding a traffic lane through the intersection in each direction.
That is, there are to be six lanes plus a bypass lane for Highway 50 coming from the south, six lanes plus a bypass lane for Highway 50 coming from the east, seven lanes for Highway 89 coming from the north, and seven lanes for Lake Tahoe Boulevard coming from the west. There also is to be some planting on the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection.
The project is expected to cost upward of $2.4 million in Caltrans and federal funds. What will we get for this? We will get more asphalt, an uglier entrance to our city, no provision for cyclists and a more-intimidating intersection for pedestrians.
Wasted fuel and air pollution from idling vehicles waiting to get through the intersection at all hours will continue. And we will get little or no improvement in traffic flow. Inbound traffic will continue to back up behind the lights at Third Street and Tahoe Keys Boulevard. Outbound traffic on Sundays and holidays will continue to back up through the intersection as it is constricted to one lane from H Street to Echo Summit.
It must be noted, also, that this brilliant project is the same one that was sidelined several years ago and is based upon a 1996 traffic count and projections that have proven to be wildly inaccurate.
Caltrans’ own peak-period traffic counts to the south and the east of the intersection show no increase in traffic that would justify this project. This may be why neither Caltrans nor the city has tried to make a case for the project since 1997.
Since then, studies by a respected Tahoe engineering firm and by the Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team favored a very different proposal for the intersection (a roundabout), as does the proposed Community Enhancement Program project for the former Mikasa site now being studied by TRPA.
So why is the city planning to go ahead with this wasteful project now? Whatever happened to the Community Plan Team’s vision of “an unmatched opportunity to remake the South ‘Y’ intersection into a hub of commercial, recreational and pedestrian activity”?
Your guess is as good as mine. The city claims that its hands are tied, as Caltrans has indicated that this is the only project it will fund at the “Y” intersection. So it appears that for South Lake Tahoe, whatever Caltrans wants, Caltrans gets.
Just now, the city appears to be allowing Caltrans to go ahead with several other Highway 50 projects that should, but do not, include bicycle trails that our community wants and needs. And here, accepting Caltrans’ dictates, it is preparing to go ahead with a project of little or no demonstrable benefit and substantial detriment to our city.
For all their talk about the importance of making the Tahoe Valley area more attractive and more economically vibrant, city council members appear unwilling to stand up to Caltrans in the interest of their constituents. So Caltrans will continue to have its way with us – unless the council wakes up and puts a stop to this foolish project.
Remember when Caltrans’ predecessor wanted to build a bridge across Emerald Bay?
– Jerome Evans is a South Lake Tahoe resident who has served as a member of the Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team and a member of the Pathway 2007 Forum.
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