Bypass meeting results in united voice to Caltrans
Community leaders and interested parties in the Highway 267 bypass issue agreed in a special town council meeting Tuesday night to approach Caltrans as a unified group, requesting the agency complete the bypass on schedule while keeping two of the ramps open.
A citizens’ advisory committee will be formed to work with the council and Caltrans on the matter.
Mayor Bob Drake said in opening remarks that the meeting was to determine the course of action preferred by the whole community, and present one option to Caltrans rather than having the state agency bombarded by independent demands.
“There’s some indication on (Caltrans’) part that they view us as a highly divided community because of the bickering on our part,” Drake said. “That’s what we hope to accomplish tonight, is to allay some of that perception.” He said Caltrans has reported receiving mixed messages from the community, and questions whether it should consider community input at all.
Despite the earlier confusion about the specifics of the bypass construction and the closure of the ramps, the majority of those present at Tuesday’s meeting agreed on two priorities: Keep the project on schedule and keep two ramps open.
A plan devised by Leigh, Scott and Cleary, a consulting firm hired by the Town of Truckee, accomplishes that goal. It leaves the eastbound off-ramp and westbound on-ramp at Highway 89 open, while redesigning a portion of the Interstate 80/Highway 267 interchange to include a looped off-ramp.
The design conforms to the minimum Federal Highway Administration limits for distance between ramps. However, it breaks another standard operating procedure by including a partial interchange – the remaining two ramps on Highway 89. FHA discourages partial interchanges because of the potential for wrong-way traffic.
Drake said the town council believes Caltrans should go ahead and start on the project, while the town pursues any necessary exception processes to get the partial interchange approved.
The Leigh, Scott and Cleary plan was submitted to Caltrans, but the town had received no word back by the time of the meeting.
“The town has submitted the Leigh, Scott and Cleary plan and asked why not do that,” Drake said. “(Caltrans) has looked at it and they have not responded.”
He said repeated efforts, including a request by Ed Sylvester of the state transportation board, had produced no answer to the question.
According to traffic studies done by Leigh, Scott and Cleary, the existing Caltrans plan outlining the closure of all four Highway 89 ramps will result in a greater degree of traffic congestion for downtown Truckee, sooner than currently anticipated in the town’s Downtown Specific Plan. According to the study, most of the congestion would be due to commuters from the Glenshire area, who would cut through downtown rather than traveling an extra mile to the new interchange.
However, with the two ramps open as proposed by the community, Leigh, Scott and Cleary predicts the traffic congestion will be eased considerably.
Town Manager Steve Wright said he approved of the spirit of cooperation shown in Tuesday’s meeting, and of the agreement reached by the parties involved.
“I’m pleased,” Wright said. “I think there’s real solid consensus from the entire community on the way Caltrans should go.” He said he will be sending faxes out to various agencies involved in the meeting with a resolution to sign in support of the town’s stand. “This is a very positive step, and Caltrans will understand that the town is speaking with a unified voice,” he said. Wright plans to draft a letter expressing the community’s views to Caltrans.
However, Wright said the Leigh, Scott and Cleary plan is not the only solution, as far as the town is concerned. Any plan which keeps the ramps open and completes the project on time would be acceptable.
“That’s just one solution,” Wright said. “(Caltrans) has engineers and if they come up with a better design, that’s fine.”
Jennifer Merchant, a representative of the North Tahoe-Truckee Transportation Management Association, said that the association has been following the progress of the bypass very closely.
“We want the ramps open,” Merchant said. “We want what the town wants and the community wants. The (town’s proposal) sounds like a viable alternative.” However, she stressed that the long-term impacts of the design need to be studied.
Some at the meeting expressed concerns that any changes to the plan would delay the bypass construction, or cause it to be postponed indefinitely.
“We’ve been at this for 20 years, and the bypass has faced opposition by many groups,” resident Doreen Cooley said. “I won’t ever agree to a 6-month delay because we run the risk of losing the money.”
Her husband, Dan Cooley, a member of the Sierra Meadows Homeowners Association, said Caltrans wants the entire ramp issue split off as a separate project.
“Caltrans wants this ramp issue broken out from the bypass,” Dan Cooley said. “As far as costs, if we don’t get the exceptions for the ramps, the eastbound side will cost $3.5 million and the westbound side will cost $4.5 million.”
However, if the exceptions are granted, consultant Dan Wilkins of Leigh, Scott and Cleary estimates the additional costs of the company’s design could be as low as $200,000.
Restaurateur Steve Frisch, owner of The Passage, who represented the Downtown Merchants Association in the meeting, said he believes the option chosen is the best for the town, because it will relieve the traffic problem
“The town is putting a committee together,” Frisch said. “I told them I would be happy to serve on it. I was encouraged by last night’s meeting. It’s better to agree to pool resources and work together instead of independently.” He said the information shared at the meeting will alleviate some of the worries in the community about the bypass.
“It gave the community a chance to come together and recognize a common goal,” Frisch said.
Those attending the meeting Tuesday included representatives from the Town of Truckee, The U.S. Forest Service, Nevada County, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Truckee Fire Department, North Sierra Air Quality Management District, Nevada County Transportation Commission, North Tahoe-Truckee Transportation Management Association, Glenshire Homeowners Association, Tahoe Donner Homeowners Association, Sierra Meadows Homeowners Association and local property owners.
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