Transportation appeals for help |

Transportation appeals for help

by Greg Risling

Transit planners from Tahoe told a Nevada legislative committee on Friday that they encounter a funding “shell game” when trying to maintain or launch new operations.

The committee listened to two hours of universal pleas from the Tahoe transportation community about searching for those hard-to-find dollars. After the six speakers outlined their specific projects, they gave vivid accounts of the continuous struggle to fund transit programs in the Tahoe Basin.

The Nevada legislators were in town as part of a three-meeting forum to review the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Local officials said the next six months is an important window of time to identify funding sources for the TRPA’s Environmental Improvement Program. The $908.6 million plan will assist in improving forest health and transportation, and restoring the lake’s clarity.

The committee was exposed to the good and bad about Tahoe transportation. Transit planners have created innovative projects that can reduce traffic and carry passengers around the lake but most of them lobbied for more funding to keep the wheels running.

Richard Wiggins, a TRPA senior planner, said his agency has approximately $102,000 annually to spend on transit planning. With that minimal allocation to transit in the basin, Wiggins said the struggle will continue if new resources aren’t found.

“We spend for planning what otherwise would be used for operations,” he said. “It’s the same color of money but the operating dollars are hard to come by.”

Those in the transit field are pushing for a special federal designation that would bring an estimated $500,000 to Tahoe. Tahoe must receive an “urbanized” status, which may cause some kinks because a metropolitan area must be home to more than 50,000. The population in the Tahoe Basin is 52,570 and not considered “centralized” by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The committee also heard testimony about the Lake Lapper’s success amid fiscal constraints and the much-anticipated Coordinated Transit System, a project set to begin next year that uses a satellite positioning system to inform passengers where buses are located.

The theme of the afternoon was apparently clear: underfunded transit projects will lose momentum and ridership unless more operational dollars can be found.

“We have to provide more options that are more attractive to people than their automobile,” said Dick Powers, director of the South Shore Transit Management Association. “We caution that you don’t make the customer fit the system, you have the system fit the customer.”

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