North Lake Tahoe roundabouts require $250,000 overhaul | SierraSun.com

North Lake Tahoe roundabouts require $250,000 overhaul

A look at traffic flow at the Bear Street roundabout on July 3. Later this summer, crews will upgrade the four Highway 28 entry “splitter islands” at both circles. In the middle of this photo, you can see one of the islands, where the Tahoe City 28 West sign is located.

KINGS BEACH, Calif. — The state and county will spend roughly a quarter-million dollars to upgrade both Kings Beach roundabouts due to an oversight in how portions of them were constructed, officials said.

The first phase of the $50 million Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project to improve the 1.1-mile section of Highway 28 through town kicked off last summer, and included construction of the traffic circles at Coon and Bear streets.

During one of the few storms last winter, Caltrans and Placer County got their first chance to address snow removal within the circles, and crews found that snowplow blades were colliding with the concrete curbs of the islands leading into and out of both roundabouts.

"We had an incident last winter when a snowplow operator was clearing snow and caught the corner of the pedestrian cut-through, and that did some serious damage to the plow," said Jim Brake, a highway operations reviewer for Caltrans District 3.

The county on Friday announced the roundabout makeup "could inhibit safe and efficient snow removal operations."

Therefore, the four islands leading into both roundabouts — called "splitter islands" — from the east and west sides on Highway 28 will be flattened to prevent snowplows from hitting curbs, according to the county.

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Further, as that work won't leave enough room for landscaping in the center of the islands, each will be paved with concrete.

Both Placer County and Caltrans officials stressed pedestrian and vehicle safety within the roundabouts is not an issue. Nothing else will be altered, including the traffic lanes and interior circles, where public art projects are scheduled.

The work is expected to take 18 days and will begin some time after Aug. 10, said Dan LaPlante, an associate civil engineer with Placer County.

"It's been talked of for several months now, but we hadn't made any determinations until recently that we were going to be modifying it," LaPlante said when asked why officials waited until last week to announce the need.

The roughly $250,000 upgrade will include demolition of the existing curbed islands (work planned for evening hours) and fill-in of concrete, which will occur from 4 to 6 a.m., with a focus on limiting noise and traffic impacts, LaPlante said.

"It should not affect any daytime activity flow," he said when asked about possible traffic delays. "The reason we selected nighttime is to limit disturbance."

A cooperative agreement expected to be finalized by the end of July would split the cost burden between Placer County and Caltrans.

Caltrans' share will come from the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) and Minor Program, said Caltrans District 3 project manager Rod Murphy.

The county had yet to determine as of Tuesday where it would pull funds, although they likely would come from state transportation improvement grants, LaPlante said.

When asked why the issue was discovered after the roundabouts were finished, Murphy said it was a combination of the Kings Beach circles being smaller than most in the state, and an inability to know how well snowplows could navigate them in the snow without a real-life trial.

"A lot of the snowplows, they know they can run through the roundabouts, but until it snows, they don't know exactly how it's going to be moving around those roundabouts," he said.

Meanwhile, Lake Tahoe's recent wet weather has delayed work on other stretches of the overall project's first phase — known as the "Core of the Core" — forcing crews to resume work on Aug. 10, rather than after Labor Day, in order to complete all highway work this year, LaPlante said.

That work will be focused along the north side of Highway 28 between Secline and Deer streets, according to the county; two lanes of traffic (one in each direction) will be maintained at all times, and a designated parking lane along the south side of the highway will be available. 

Considering the extra work needed to both make up for the rain days and for the roundabout upgrades, LaPlante said it's possible some work in The Grid neighborhood — installing sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and drainage and parking improvements — may not be completed until spring/summer of 2016.

Still, the county's Friday announcement reports that a "project completion celebration is planned for later this fall."

A contract for the project's second phase, "Gateway to the Core," is scheduled to be awarded this fall, with work planned for the 2016 construction season.