Tahoe Transportation District defends Highway 50/South Shore Community Revitalization ‘Loop Road’ Project
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — In response to recent opposition to the proposed U.S. Highway 50/South Shore Community Revitalization “Loop Road” Project, officials from Tahoe Transportation District held a press conference Thursday, March 17 — part of an ongoing effort to address concerns and promote public awareness.
“These opponents have launched a campaign based more in fear than fact,” transportation district director Carl Hasty said during a speech delivered to gathered media in a vacant lot along one of the proposed highway routes. “(They) appear to want to stymie change and support the existing conditions for the South Tahoe area.”
Defending the project, Hasty added, “I don’t think it takes a lot to look around and see how dated Tahoe’s infrastructure is.”
The plan, currently under environmental review, calls for a realignment of Highway 50 around the Stateline casino corridor and Heavenly Village. Under the proposal, the existing highway would be reduced to two lanes in order to create a more pedestrian friendly downtown.
“It would be the first local main street in all of Lake Tahoe,” Hasty said during a media bus tour of the route, following the conference.
The project’s environmental impact report is expected to be released in April with a decision on a preferred option. Five variations of the plan are currently being assessed including a no-action plan and a raised pedestrian skywalk that would leave the existing highway in place. The other three plans include variations of rerouting the highway behind Heavenly Village and into existing neighborhoods.
Depending on which option is selected, the plan would impact between 53 and 97 residential and commercial units including some aging apartment units and motels.
During his speech Hasty said the project will significantly improve highway drainage, which has a substantial impact on lake clarity.
Opposition to the plan, led in part by former South Lake Tahoe city councilman Bruce Grego, recently began efforts to petition for a city ballot measure to vote on the project.
“What are they trying to fix here?” Grego said in a recent interview questioning motivations for the project. “Traffic is not that bad.”
Grego also suggested that the project would not have a positive economic impact on the region.
Hasty, however, defended the project citing an economic impact study the district had commissioned.
“The economic study, which is available on the TTD website, lays out substantial economic benefits for South Lake Tahoe,” he said during the conference.
Addressing the opposition and the proposed ballot measure in an interview following the press conference, Hasty said, “I think there is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there.”
Among examples, he cited the notion — implied by another publication — that the project would be paid for in part by city tax revenues. The plan, however, is expected to be paid for through existing federal and state transportation funds.
The publication also speculated that it would lead to additional commercial development on the Nevada side of the highway near Stateline.
“I have a hard time understanding that one,” Hasty said. “If that were true I don’t understand what would prevent that from happening now and why this project would make that any more possible.”
As to the need for a ballot measure, he said, “The proposed action came out of a public process. This has not been about a shortage of public opinion.”
During the speech Hasty pointed toward 140 presentations given to the public and local government outlets since the project’s inception.
He also suggested that a city ballot measure would not include those living outside of the incorporated city limits.
“A number of business and property owners do not live in the city, so what are they supposed to do? A campaign is no substitute for the robust public process that we’ve had,” he said.
Once the environmental impact report is released, it will be open to public comment for 60 days. TTD will also need approval from the South Lake Tahoe City Council, El Dorado and Douglas counties as well as Caltrans.
Additional project information is available at http://www.tahoetransportation.org.
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