Building a better mousehole
It will only take President George Bush’s signature on a congressional transportation bill to secure over $2.8 million to widen Truckee’s dangerously narrow railroad undercrossing known as the “mousehole.”
While the money will not be enough to complete the project, it is enough to begin work on the dangerous section of road that leads bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles through a tight concrete tunnel, officials say. Potential funding from the Nevada County Transportation Commission, Squaw Valley developer Intrawest and Caltrans could be enough to see the mousehole widening completed.
Securing the mousehole funding was a coup for Truckee’s voice in the U. S. House of Representatives, John Doolittle, who kept the relatively small project from being overshadowed in a federal transportation bill that appropriates hundreds of billions of dollars.
“I’ve known about this mousehole problem for years even before I was a representative,” Doolittle said on a visit to Truckee last week. “I decided we were going to put it at the top and make it happen.”
The federal funding should be enough to finish the project design and environmental review and still have over $1 million left for construction, said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.
Planners can attack the traffic hazard by either boring additional tunnels for pedestrians and bicyclists or by removing the tunnel and constructing a wide bridge at the location.
Each project will have its different advantages and price tags, Wilkins said.
Just boring a hole for pedestrian and bike traffic on one side of the tunnel, while the least expensive of the options, would still leave the hourglass-shaped narrowing of the road for vehicles, and force southbound bicyclists to cross the highway twice to get around the tunnel, Wilkins explained.
“It’s a partial solution,” he said.
The full solutions include making a second tunnel for southbound vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians along with a second northbound tunnel for bikes and pedestrians, or removing the tunnel and building a bridge.
Both solutions are met with the same problem.
“The most significant challenge with these alternatives in they will have to maintain railroad traffic and vehicle traffic while they are under construction,” Wilkins said.
While the Town of Truckee has taken a leading role in the prospective project, Wilkins said the complexity of the work, which involves the Union Pacific railroad and Caltrans regulations, may require the town to hand the project off to another agency.
“At some point I think Caltrans or the railroad is going to have to step up and take a larger role in the project.”
Despite the difficult process that the mousehole widening will go through before being completed, the Town of Truckee was delighted to have captured a large block of funding for a project that they have made a top priority.
“Hopefully we can get it done before anyone gets hurt in there,” said Truckee Mayor Craig Threshie.