Opinion: Highway project would revitalize the South Shore community
Tribune Opinion Columnist
Rarely do I use this space to comment upon political issues within our community. That said, with the “politicization” of the U.S. Highway 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, I felt the need to share some background and perspectives for consideration.
After I participated alongside a Tahoe Chamber board member on two different community-wide committees in 2012/2013, in addition to numerous board and committee members attending myriad workshops and presentations, the Board of Directors and the Government Affairs Committee (GAC) reached a decision of support for this project. When the GAC and board make a decision to support or oppose an initiative, it is based upon our adopted Tahoe Future Vision 2020 document that speaks to the importance of economic vitality, quality of life, sustainability, infrastructure and intellectual capital. This project checks four out of five boxes, and when coupled with confidence in the regulations governing the environmental review and relocation processes to protect impacted citizens, businesses and our environment, the decision was clear.
This decision wasn’t made quickly or lightly. Some board members have been tracking this project for many years, given it has been underway since 1980 and was initiated by studies showing more than 70 percent of the fine sediment particles harming Lake Tahoe’s clarity come from an outdated transportation system. The project establishes the foundation for multi-modal transportation and connectivity and is part of a Tahoe Basin-wide network to include more bike/pedestrian paths as alternatives to driving. The environmental benefits and lengths by which the project will improve storm water treatment and create sustainable upgrades to properties were important factors in the chamber’s decision, as we support policies and programs that increase accountability and participation that enriches our community.
The chamber is committed to smart growth and sensible regulations to advance technical and physical infrastructure that supports businesses and the community, which was why we didn’t take lightly the important objections to the proposed plan. But community traffic flow has long been a problem for residents and visitors, as shops are being overlooked for visitation because of traffic congestion. Creating an established “main street” district would address traffic issues so community members and visitors can easily stop and shop or dine , ather than just driving by. Additionally, residents will now have a voice in what types of events, streetscape and businesses will set the tone for their community as local government takes over control of the new main street.
The project’s Economic Analysis Report found the U.S. Highway 50 area possesses many qualities that make it a popular tourism draw, but that it is not on a par with other communities. The tourism and visitor-services cluster is the largest economic driver in the basin and accounts for approximately 50 percent of total jobs in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The South Shore’s market position among western mountain/resort areas has suffered. Developing a main street has been successful in other areas for improving visitation of businesses in a redevelopment area and elsewhere in the community as well. Examples of these efforts can be found in such places as Park City, Utah; Breckenridge, Colorado, and Truckee, California. This project helps achieve a considerable upgrade in the appeal of the South Shore as a destination for visitors and locals, who can expect to see numerous short-term and long-term employment opportunities.
Over the years Chamber Treks have visited communities such as Livermore, Monterey, Emeryville and Park City to witness firsthand how these communities have realigned their downtown areas. A primary takeaway was that attractive downtown cores create gathering places for residents, and visitors find this attractive and want to experience the area as well. In Livermore we learned how the local business community celebrated every phase of the construction, and this, I believe, is something that businesses and the chamber could replicate here when the time arrives. We also heard loud and clear that no commercial businesses should be located on the “new” road, ensuring that residents and visitors are encouraged to visit the desired commercial core area.
But most importantly what we heard in each and every community was that revitalization projects take courage, vision and commitment on the part of both residents and leaders. Change is complicated and often causes fear exhibited as anger and negativity. So I encourage every reader to become informed by reading the summary pages of both the Highway 50 project plan and the accompanying economic analysis to make an informed personal decision.
And finally, now is the time for us to ask deep questions of ourselves and our elected leaders, such as how can we leverage this transportation project into a true community revitalization project? One such opportunity being proposed is the affordable housing component, which should be embraced. We also need to begin the community dialogue on how we will address the other enhancements necessary to ensure we maximize the upside of this transportation project, including signage, marketing plans, events programming and streetscape. Instead of fighting over whether we want to improve our community, perhaps we could come together to talk about how we could leverage this project and the federal dollars it will bring that otherwise will not come to our community.
For more detailed information on the project and the alternatives under consideration, visit http://www.tahoetransportation.org.
To view a full version of the Tahoe Future South Shore Community vision 2020 document, visit http://www.tahoechamber.org or call 775-588-1728 to receive a copy by mail.
“B” Gorman, J.D., A.C.E. is the president/CEO of Tahoe Chamber.
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