Sass Talk: Parking, transportation drive conversation in Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Sass Talk: Parking, transportation drive conversation in Tahoe

Austin Sass
Sass Talk

Within the past two months the dialogue surrounding parking, bus service and traffic have really escalated. What seems to have really fueled the flames is the recent addition of paid parking at the Chateau parking area under the retail shops and the decision (within their rights) by Harrah's to stop allowing skiers and boarders to use their lot to access the gondola.

Everywhere I go I am asked what is the city going to about it, what is Heavenly going to do, doesn't the TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) require solutions and why doesn't the TTD (Tahoe Transportation District) add more buses.

I figure a good way to address some of the concerns is to explain the various agency roles and start the discussion about funding for whatever solution is arrived at.

For Tahoe's residents and visitors, a most essential factor for ensuring the success of our region's transportation goals is close and effective coordination between two important agencies: the TRPA and the TTD.

The TRPA's mandate is to provide broad, long range planning for the Lake Tahoe Basin for the protection of Lake Tahoe. The bi-state compact brought uniform protections to Tahoe's planning, with TRPA created to oversee planning to protect Lake Tahoe.

The compact specifically mandates TRPA to help Tahoe reduce its dependency on private cars. TRPA does this by developing plans that guide how development impacts our transportation activities, and by mapping out a vision for the region's transportation networks.

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The Tahoe Transportation District is Tahoe's agency tasked with implementing the transportation goals and policies for the Basin. While TTD must also prepare plans for its work, the thrust of its operations is ensuring Tahoe's transportation projects become reality. It does this by working with the local governments and two state departments of transportation.

Improving Tahoe's transportation is a top priority for our communities, our visitors and for Lake Tahoe itself, which is why effective collaboration between TRPA and TTD is so important.

So what's our current situation? Paid parking, too much tourist traffic, and not enough bus service. What is our region to do? It appears that paid parking on private lots (far and away the greatest supply of parking) is on the rise and could become a fixture. Paid parking is an expectation at many resort areas as well as large urban areas, but it's pretty new to Tahoe, except of course at many of our public beaches. Recreation travel, love it or hate it, is the economic driver of our community.

But with it comes too many vehicles overwhelming our highway system. TRPA's regional transportation plan envisions building a multi-modal system offering transit, bike, and pedestrian choices to get around. This is probably the best step to improve Tahoe's transportation experience short of building bigger highways.

The question is how do we get there? What must we do to make it possible for people to arrive with fewer cars, park it once, and then take those alternatives leaving the roads less cluttered? The Tahoe Transportation District (TTD), a bi-state agency created to focus on getting transportation on the ground, has developed a detailed implementation plan for transit system improvements to connect Tahoe within the basin and to its drive up markets.

TTD has also developed a corridor connection approach to accelerate implementation of needed project improvements. Any implementation plan needs enough funding, something that has been in short supply giving us too infrequent bus service, and no significant alternative to arrive at Tahoe without your car.

Financially, the needed improvements exceed what residents and commuters can support on their own and most likely would not vote for via some type of tax. And, the trend over the last 20 years shows us that the states and federal government aren't going to cover it either.

We must leverage these minimal existing funds with the creation of a regional source. Other successful resort communities look to their visitors for the revenue to leverage their local, state, and federal funds. It is time for Tahoe to do the same.

The TTD board and others are working on this approach. It is going to take collaboration with the two states (California and Nevada), TRPA and local government agencies, deliberation, and good information to create a fair workable regional funding source.

Given how long things can take at Tahoe we can't afford to wait "until the time is right" to get started. If we all want the existing situation to be different, and to get improvements on the ground, then that time is now.

The honest discussion about funding needs to be job No. 1 and it needs to start with the TRPA and the TTD agreeing on what is real and what is not. I have faith that together the two executive directors can lead and get it done.

It looks like the 2018 issues will be many. It's going be an interesting year and your input will be invaluable.

That being said, I count my blessing every day that I live and play in one of Mother Nature's greatest creations. I love the fresh air, our water, our beautiful blue lake and skies, the mountains, the trees, boulders and the people who call this home. Be it bright sunny skies or deep in snow, it's where I want to be.

I sincerely hope 2018 brings you good health, happiness and lots of love. Good luck in the year ahead.

Councilmember Austin Sass can be reached at asass@cityofslt.us and on Facebook by searching Sasstalk.