Tahoe Highway 89 project: Officials talk challenge of managing lake access, parking
Visit tahoeroads.com/89_West_Shore for details on the project, including photos, maps, a fact sheet and more.
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The end is finally in sight for the roughly 4-year process to rebuild Highway 89 along Lake Tahoe’s West Shore, but not all residents like what they’re seeing.
Concerns about width of the road, decrease in parking spaces, beach access and size of TART bus pullouts have all been brought up in regard to the nearly complete Caltrans project, specifically at Hurricane Bay, which is located on the south side of Tahoe City near Timberland.
Tahoe City Public Utility District General Manager Cindy Gustafason said the Highway 89 project is about managing stormwater runoff to protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe.
“I don’t think anyone understood — most of the public and the other public agencies that would deal with public access, (that they) really commented as much as the public thinks they should have on the reduction in public parking,” she said.
Gustafason said that’s been common with water quality improvement projects at all government levels.
“In trying to protect the lake, we’re trying to keep people on paved surfaces,” Gustafason said. “We also don’t want to pave paradise, so they narrow or confine, and now we lose parking.”
TCPUD Director of Parks and Recreation Bob Bolton said that Caltrans has been responsive to issues that have come up with the Highway 89 reconstruction, such as water drainage and erosion.
He added that unless something is an emergency, those issues would not be addressed until the project is complete.
Caltrans: Parking not our job
Seasonal construction on Highway 89 is expected to continue through next year. Caltrans spokesperson Steve Nelson said the project, which stretches from Tahoma to Tahoe City, is expected to be 90 percent complete by Oct. 15.
He said that while the road may look narrow right now, it’s still a work in progress and will actually be in better condition than it was before the construction started.
“When we finish building it out, it’ll have five-foot shoulders, which weren’t there in the past,” he said.
But Nelson said Caltrans doesn’t provide any parking spaces, and that the department only creates “maintenance vehicle pullouts,” which he said are for Caltrans employees to use.
“Any official parking lot would be the Forest Service or whoever addresses that land, but Caltrans doesn’t build parking,” he said.
That isn’t to say the state didn’t try, though. Nelson said an additional pullout was part of the original plan, but it was scrapped because nearby residents didn’t want it. There was also a conflict with an existing sewer line.
“We don’t actually own the section of land down there. We have an easement,” he said.
Nelson said a lot of the homeowners in the area actually own property that stretches all the way down to the lake, so it can be difficult to get approval for additional parking (or maintenance turnouts, for that matter).
BALANCING ENVIRONMENT, PARKING
The purpose of the construction is to limit stormwater runoff from vehicles, so there’s now a steep paved curb that is expected to prevent sediment from running directly off the road and into the lake. There are two paved pullouts along the road near Hurricane Bay.
According to Caltrans, in areas where curb and gutters are placed, the shoulder width will be increased to five feet to accommodate bicyclists who choose to ride on the highway shoulder instead of the adjacent multi-purpose trail.
Where visitors used to be able to park on a dirt shoulder, they’ll soon find wooden bollards — which are kind of like man-made tree stumps — sticking out of the ground.
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesperson Tom Lotshaw said, “It can be a significant challenge to balance the needs of the environment with the demand for roadside parking and lake access.”
He said that despite some of the challenges in providing access to the lake, TRPA believes the stormwater management work that Caltrans is doing is essential to protect the lake.
In all, the $70.1 million project from Tahoma to just north of Granlibakken Road in Tahoe City is part of the multi-agency Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program to help preserve and protect Lake Tahoe.