Agencies focus on solving Hwy. 89 traffic problems
With several residential and resort developments proposed for the neighborhood, Truckee’s Highway 89 South corridor is bracing itself for an assault of heavy traffic from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass Road.
The success of the road’s overhaul will depend largely on how officials from various agencies cooperate to handle the traffic demands that Truckee faces. Traffic conditions on many portions of Hwy. 89 South already rank at or close to the worst service level possible.
“This is no longer a lazy town that closes up,” said Eddie Prado, owner of the Village Pizzeria in the Crossroads Center on Deerfield Drive.
“We’re not happy with the traffic, but we need it,” he said.
“The only way we can get more business is to get more traffic,” he added, saying, “we still pay these big San Francisco rents.”
At the crossroads of Interstate 80 and Hwy. 89 South, Prado’s business is one of many that will likely feel the brunt of the traffic from several developments planned for the area, including proposed residential complexes at Deerfield Drive and the McIver property.
The immediate impact will be from the proposed Village at Squaw Valley residential and commercial development. The project’s April draft environmental impact report admits that there will be “cumulatively significant and unavoidable” impacts on traffic circulation on the entire Hwy. 89 South area.
Intrawest, the project’s developer, has agreed to mitigation measures including putting in a traffic light at the junction of Hwy. 89 and West River Street, as well as a second northbound through lane, both of which could be underway in May and June of next year. Some mitigation fees might even contribute to the proposed roundabouts.
Part of the reason that the agencies are waiting to make more accurate assessments is that traffic studies made by the separate groups differ widely. Participants admit that studying traffic is not an exact science.
“Truckee is a tough place to do traffic studies,” said Jim Brake, traffic operations manager for Caltrans Division Three, citing seasonal variation and the many weekend drivers.
Brake also said that it is unusual for counties to share mitigation fees, but added that authorities in Martis Valley have been successful in exactly such a program.
Another difficult section of the roadway is the so-called “mousehole” where the railroad passes over a narrow tunnel over Hwy. 89. The mousehole presents more funding difficulties because of the high cost of reconstruction.
“The trick in this will be the funding,” said Dan Landon, Nevada County transportation director. “We hope to work with Caltrans, use some money we have and get funding from the state,” but added that this might not cover the full cost of renovation.
“We are working in conjunction with the town looking to determine what the feelings of the community are,” he said, but added that “at this point we do not have money to make the complete fix.”
Dan Wilkins, Truckee town engineer, said “we’d be doing good if it was done in 10 years.”
Caltrans will participate in most of the projects beginning with new traffic lights at the I-80 offramp where roundabouts are being considered.
“I’m not sure how strong the town will come out on roundabouts. Cooperation will depend on that,” said Brake. He added that the signalization will be completed in the meantime for safety purposes.
State and county agencies are cooperating to alleviate the situation, but several transportation and planning officials said that beyond their plans they can only hope for the best.
Landon is positive that cooperation will work to make the “levels of (transportation) service generally acceptable.”
“Ultimately it will all come out in the wash,” said Zicker.
“We need the traffic. There’s no choice,” said Prado. “I’d love it to be a lazy little town, but those days are over.”
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