Opening Days 2009 must be free of traffic nightmares |

Opening Days 2009 must be free of traffic nightmares

The Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority Board of Directors voted Thursday to keep Highway 50 open for all future events.

Good call.

The LTVA’s latest event – Opening Days Lake Tahoe – lured about 15,000 fun-seeking people to the South Shore last weekend. The spirited party, held on a closed stretch of Highway 50 from Heavenly Village past the casinos, offered participants live music, stunt performers, food, crafts, bikini-clad women and more.

Unfortunately, Opening Days 2008 will be remembered more for a significant flaw: nightmarish traffic.

Drivers heading toward Stateline were routed onto Lake Parkway, which was restructured into a one-way, counterclockwise loop for the event. The detour was supposed to accommodate two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, but at least on the California side of the loop, drivers were reluctant to use both lanes, South Lake Tahoe police said.

Drivers eventually realized they could use both lanes, but by about 2:30 p.m., even that didn’t help. According to South Lake Tahoe police Lt. David Stevenson, the traffic “absolutely ground to a halt.”

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Motorists on Highway 50 faced delays of two to three hours. Backups extended from Al Tahoe Boulevard on the California side and nearly to Zephyr Cove in Nevada.

Police Chief Terry Daniels helped answer more than 300 calls to the police station Saturday from motorists wondering about the traffic backups.

“The phones were just ringing off the hook,” Daniels said Monday. “There were a lot of people who were angry.”

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, which puts on the event, has “tons of stuff to take a look at,” said LTVA Director Carol Chaplin. But other agencies must recognize the severe challenges the currently configured Opening Days presented.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency issued a permit to the LTVA, and the city of South Lake Tahoe offered police to help control traffic. Both entities have acknowledged Saturday’s traffic problems and vow to ensure they don’t happen again.

Bravo to them for accepting responsibility where it’s warranted.

Now, on to next year: The LTVA has been instructed to “reinvent” Opening Days, and in that spirit, we suggest several possible solutions, though none will completely solve South Shore traffic snarls. Even on average summer days, Highway 50 and its tributaries can be infuriatingly congested.

Given the traffic backlash, it might make more sense to hold Opening Days in a more confined location.

The Horizon Casino Resort, for instance, has a huge outdoor parking area that probably could accommodate all event activities. Or throw several casino sites into the mix: That would spread the cheer, help businesses in the area and keep traffic on Highway 50 at least manageable.

People who attended Opening Days Lake Tahoe loved the event but hated the bumper-to-bumper quagmire getting there and then back home.

Let’s figure out how we can turn a good event into a great one in 2009.