Truckee moves ahead on roundabouts |

Truckee moves ahead on roundabouts

David Bunker and Jamie Bate

A rendering shows the dual roundabouts set for the Interstate 80-Highway 89 South interchange in Truckee.

It will take a matter of months to tell whether the Town of Truckee’s big – and round – ideas concerning traffic control are visionary or just different.

Two multilane roundabouts will be constructed at the Highway 89 South and Interstate 80 interchange over the summer to solve traffic backups on the I-80 offramps. The go-ahead for the project came after the town convinced state transportation gurus that high-capacity roundabouts could handle traffic flowing on and off I-80. But it was a hard sell, according to Tom Brannon, manager of Caltrans projects in Nevada and Sierra counties.

“These are the first multilane roundabouts in the north state,” Brannon said. “The size is really driven by the existing traffic. It became apparent that a single lane through the roundabout wouldn’t work.”

The two roundabouts, one on either side of the I-80 overpass, will each have two lanes and will be one of the most innovative traffic projects in the state. The complexity of the design, as well as rising material costs, stalled the project, which was supposed to begin last year.

The $3.5 million project will finally begin large-scale construction next week, but it took some talking to get to that point. Truckee officials wanted to build the roundabouts when they learned Caltrans was proposing to put in $750,000 worth of traffic signals at the offramp intersections.

“We had a signal job planned to address some safety issues,” Brannon said. “The town said if we put the (traffic signal) money toward the roundabouts, they’d do the balance.

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“We took them up on their offer.”

While town officials believed roundabouts would more effectively deal with the backup of traffic onto the interstate during peak ski days, Caltrans officials weren’t so sure.

“Although Caltrans has the oversight and approval authority over the project, it was the town that made this happen,” Brannon said. “When Caltrans first saw (the proposal), I think the phrase ‘when pigs fly’ was heard.”

The roundabouts are designed to handle current and future traffic loads in the area, while signals would have dealt with existing usage, Brannon said.

Meanwhile, drivers can expect traffic to be slowed at the intersection throughout the summer.

“Equipment is being mobilized this week,” said Dan Wilkins, Truckee Public Works director. “Construction will start in earnest next Monday.”

Next week, traffic will slow as grading and earth moving begin, said Wilkins.

“There will be periods of time when we will be down to one lane in each direction,” he said.

While the contractors are not required to complete the project until the middle of next summer, Wilkins said the roundabouts could be completed by the middle of October this year.