Changing Traffic |

Changing Traffic

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunJohn Eimer, a California Highway Patrol officer, directs traffic at a crosswalk in Tahoe City Thursday. CHP has an officer on duty Thursdays because of the heavy foot traffic from the Foothills Farmers Market at Commons Beach. Placer County will host an open house Wednesday to discuss funding for traffic projects.

Few North Tahoe residents or visitors would dispute the fact that forces them to pad their schedules with an extra five, 10 or 15 minutes of drive time during peak season ” traffic and road congestion have worsened.

But the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency is trying to change that.

According to the planning agency’s forecast, if left untouched, traffic congestion could increase by 600 percent county-wide by the year 2030.

The planning agency hosted an open house in Tahoe City Wednesday to inform residents of a funding deficit for highway improvements, and the potential for future sources of money, including a county-wide sales tax.

“Funding has dwindled significantly in this state … it has not kept pace with the inflation of gas,” said Celia McAdam, the agency’s executive director.

The transportation agency is taking on that funding shortfall, seeking ways to bridge the gap between the available funding and the costly transportation project that are needed in the county.

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If Placer County wants better roads and transportation ease, its constituents need to fund the projects themselves, McAdam said at Wednesday’s open house.

“We need to take the driver’s seat,” she said. “It’s up to the public as to whether it’s worthwhile.”

Other officials agreed that county taxpayers need to take it upon themselves to fund transportation projects. The only way to address the ever-shrinking transit fund is for residents to take matters into their own hands, said agency board member Tom Cosgrove.

“Self-help counties” are generally favored in the California Legislature, said Caltrans official Wayne Lewis.

“Transportation funding is so limited. There’s so much competition for it,” he said.

Projects in the eastern portion of Placer County might include rebuilding Fanny Bridge, re-aligning Highway 89, frontage and streetscape improvement projects in Tahoe City and Kings Beach and contributing to the widening of the Mousehole on Highway 89 south near Truckee.

Tahoe constituents would have the opportunity to help prioritize the projects, officials say.

“Out of this expenditure plan we’ve carved out money specifically for Tahoe … what are Tahoe’s priorities?” McAdam asked the audience.

According to the planning agency, candidate projects through the year 2035 would cost nearly $5.5 billion, while projections of current funding sources amount to less than $2 billion.

In order to address a $3.5 billion deficit, the planning agency formed a steering committee to help brainstorm alternate funding sources.

The transportation expenditure plan is considering property, gas, payroll, parcel and transient occupancy taxes (bed taxes), or a vehicle registration fee.

The steering committee includes a handful of Tahoe residents.

“It’s to make sure people up here know they’re not going to get blown out … to know they’d get a benefit,” said Lewis.