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Tahoe traffic gaining national reputation

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is conducting a telephone survey to track the driving patterns of 1,250 households. TRPA plans to release a report later this summer.
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While the Lake Tahoe summer traffic heats up, transportation leaders have placed a priority on relieving congestion.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is conducting a telephone survey to track the driving patterns of 1,250 households with questions ranging from where they drive to what they pay in fares and parking as early as 3 a.m. for a work force that works around the clock. TRPA plans to release a report later this summer.

“We need to improve the overall flow of traffic. We have pedestrian-friendly villages (near) Stateline, but that doesn’t solve the big issue,” TRPA transportation planner Nick Haven said.

The regulatory agency wants to know who drives where to assess what areas need to bolster improvements. And for the entire basin, there are plenty of choices to throw money behind – from the public transit system to roadwork.

With growing areas like El Dorado Hills and the Carson Valley bearing down on Lake Tahoe with traffic from either side of the hill, Haven is convinced there needs to be a locally driven funding source for the regional transit system.

For now, Haven and company are seeking sites deemed ideal for waterborne transit, with talk of a solar-powered hybrid boat to carry passengers across the lake.

For land travel, Haven reports the BlueGo bus service has cut its bus-stop waits from one hour to 20 minutes – but adds there’s more to do to get the service to a level residents and visitors would be happy with. Routes have been reduced over the first few years. And some have expressed dismay at not being able to find the service in the phone book or on the street. Haven admits it’s a work in progress.

And Tahoe towns are not alone with their transportation worries.

“In resort towns, this is a big problem,” TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said.

A report by the American Highway Users Alliance ranked Lake Tahoe as No. 16 for traffic bottlenecks, singling out Interstate 80 as an offender. The Top 3 destinations with the worst summer traffic delays include the Oregon Coast, Maryland/Delaware shore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Napa Valley came in for California as No. 8.

The American Automobile Association found 85 percent of trips over 100 miles are taken by private vehicles and 12 percent by airplane.

And every survey and poll has indicated that Tahoe residents name traffic congestion as the main problem facing the community.

On hectic weekends, South Shore residents complain of motorists making shortcuts through neighborhoods and parking lots, while drivers lament missed appointments and engagements when they’re caught on roads undergoing street construction. Road repair agencies must contend with a short window of opportunity for completing projects, in combination with California’s budget reduction for highway improvements, which fell from 33 percent to less than 1 percent.

Meanwhile, California has 34 million registered vehicles on the road, a number that has tripled in the last 20 years.

California Highway Patrol Lt. Bob Jones urged residents to call their state legislators for action.

In the meantime, the state’s transportation department works to spread piecemeal projects across the map. Caltrans’ district spokeswoman Jan Mendoza reported the agency plans to finalize work on Sierra Boulevard for a left-turn lane leading onto Highway 50. Also on tap for South Lake Tahoe, Caltrans intends to place much focus on the Highway 50 curb-and- gutter project and “Y” traffic improvements.

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