TRPA should drop ‘rust’ guardrail issue |

TRPA should drop ‘rust’ guardrail issue

During the last month, an interesting controversy has brewed between the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and our Nevada and California departments of transportation.

Seems Caltrans, either defiantly or ignorantly, installed 400 feet of galvanized guardrail along Highway 267 from King’s Beach to Truckee. The transportation department is supposed to consult with the TRPA on projects of environmental or aesthetic sensitivity – apparently, it did not. The TRPA prefers “rust rail,” a guardrail (or an alternative) designed to blend in with the road’s surroundings, and it is considering whether it will take Caltrans to court, a decision it will probably make at its Dec. 15 meeting.

In a Tribune story Tuesday, the two transportation departments indicated they will stand up against TRPA, arguing that in their expert opinion, rust rail is not as durable as galvanized guardrail, and therefore is a safety issue. The TRPA does not claim jurisdiction on “safety” in the Tahoe basin, and so the transportation agencies might have a point.

But there are several other practical reasons why we think the TRPA should drop the guardrail issue.

The first is litigation: Caltrans is a taxpayer funded, government agency. So is the TRPA. If the TRPA sues Caltrans, who loses? We do.

The second is cost: If the TRPA successfully fines Caltrans (as it has done with other public agencies), even while avoiding litigation, who loses? We do. And in this case, who gains? The TRPA. The fines, which can be tens of thousands of dollars, disappear from where they were intended to go, and end up with the TRPA, where they were not intended to go.

Also, if rust rail is indeed more expensive over the long haul, we will pay more.

The third is common sense: In the end, even if it wins this fight, the TRPA will lose more than it gains in public perception.

Over the years, the TRPA has ruffled a lot of feathers in the Tahoe Basin, and hurt its image along the way. It has been perceived as an obtuse bureaucracy pitted against even the simplest progress. While the perception does not necessarily match up with reality, the TRPA has put more focus on boosting its image, and over the last year it has made great headway. The guardrail issue is one of those “two steps back” situations.

Let’s face it, drivers visiting the Tahoe Basin would take little notice of a different type of guardrail then they are used to back home. Aesthetically, rust rail might blend in better, but its a relatively small distinction.

When Nevada and California cooperated to create the TRPA, they gave it a lot of power. But with the power comes the responsibility to consider when and when not to use it. In this case, the TRPA would be wise not to use it.

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