Council officially opens traffic circle, undercrossing
Truckee capped off the $3 million downtown roundabout and McIver’s Crossing project last Friday with a ceremonial ribbon cutting to mark its completion.
McIver’s Crossing, the new road under the railroad tracks to West River Street, was officially opened after the ceremony, and the roundabout began full operation for the first time since its completion in November.
Mayor Ron Florian officiated at the ceremony – his last official public event as mayor before passing the gavel to Vice Mayor Josh Susman during last Thursday’s council meeting. Also present were Susman, councilmembers Maia Schneider, Bob Drake and Don McCormack.
Fromer mayors Breeze Cross and Kathleen Eagan, who negotiated the agreement with Union Pacific which led to the construction of the undercrossing, were also present, as well as representatives from design engineering firm URS Greiner, Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction Services and Burdick Excavating, along with Gordon Shaw, who was responsible for the preliminary design and traffic analysis for the roundabout and undercrossing.
Town Engineer Dan Wilkins said traffic appears to be moving smoothly through the roundabout, although some drivers are not clear on who has to yield at the intersection.
“There is still some confusion over who has the right of way,” Wilkins said. “I’m expecting it will get better over time.”
He said the roundabout should help to reduce traffic congestion downtown, because it allows local drivers an alternate route to West River Street.
“It’s good, because it doesn’t pull out the tourist traffic headed for downtown,” he said.
The undercrossing and roundabout project are the result of a cooperative effort between the Town of Truckee, Union Pacific Railroad and local utility agencies.
In fall 1995, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific filed a merger application with the Surface Transportation Board and towns across the nation filed comments with the board indicating the impact the merger would have on their communities.
In Truckee, studies showed the merger meant more train traffic and more traffic jams downtown, unless something was done to relieve the congestion. The town filed its comments with the STB, and Union Pacific and Southern Pacific officials came to the table to negotiate a settlement.
“It’s my sense that the railroad was looking at this whole project from coast to coast,” Wilkins said. “Other communities had issues, but most did not.”
Things were much different in Reno, where the city initially fought the merger. Reno’s protest earned it an unwanted solution to the merger problem – the STB said trains could move twice as fast through the city to reduce traffic problems caused by the doubling of railroad traffic after the merger. The city only recently reached a compromise with the railroad to lower the tracks through downtown Reno – and it took a 25-cent sales tax, which was passed without a vote of the people to fund the construction.
“Truckee elected to work cooperatively and reasonably with the railroad,” Wilkins said. “The railroad saw that as an opportunity to demonstrate that they did want to work in good faith.”
Cross and Eagan served on the railroad subcommittee during their terms in office, and helped negotiate the merger settlement and the partnership to construct the undercrossing.
Under the terms of the agreement forged in spring 1996, Union Pacific built the new railroad bridge, which was completed in January of this year, at a cost of around $1 million. The town agreed to excavate the undercrossing and construct the new road and intersection. Truckee’s portion of the bill came to around $1.8 million for all expenses, Wilkins said.
“While the railroad built the bridge last winter, the town was doing design and working on environmental clearance,” Wilkins said. “The design phase was completed in June of this year and construction began.”
Although the official opening ceremony for the roundabout and undercrossing was conducted last week, Wilkins said the town is still waiting for street lights to arrive for the intersection, because the lights are on back order. For the duration, temporary lights and a generator have been installed in the center of the roundabout.
Why a roundabout?
Wilkins said a few factors contributed to the town’s choice of a roundabout design for the undercrossing intersection.
“When the preliminary underpass alignment was put together in the spring of 1996, the town staff took a step back and looked at the design,” Wilkins said. “They found out the intersection at West River would work with just a stop sign. However, on Donner Pass Road it looked like a traffic signal would be required because of the higher traffic volumes.” He said the Downtown Specific Plan identified roundabouts as an alternative to signalization, and the town hired a specialist in roundabout design to evaluate the intersection.
Three designs were put before the council for a vote in June 1996, including a five-leg roundabout which took in High Street and the Interstate 80 off ramp, the three-leg roundabout design which controlled West River and Donner Pass Road and a another intersection design with a traffic signal
Because of opposition from Caltrans, the town opted not to consider the five-leg roundabout design, Wilkins said. Instead, the three-leg design was approved.
Tips for safely navigating the roundabout:
Remember that traffic in the roundabout always has the right of way.
All turns into and out of the roundabout will be right turns.
Prevailing speed in the roundabout is slow – about 20 mph, but should be constant. Traffic in the roundabout should never stop – only the vehicles waiting for a chance to enter it.
Take care in icy weather, and maintain a slow, constant speed.
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