Hwy. 267 Bypass; Town seeks to avoid construction delays, keep existing I-80 ramps open
The Town of Truckee said it will do everything possible to avoid construction delays on the Highway 267 Bypass, including protecting needed funding and pressing to keep existing Interstate 80 ramps open.
Interpreting the recent traffic study compiled by LSC Inc. of Tahoe City further muddies the bypass issues presented by concerned residents, town planners and Caltrans.
“There is nothing that we will do to delay the bypass,” Mayor Bob Drake said at last week’s town council meeting. “We will need to make some quick decisions.”
The decisions may not seem as quick as many people think. The bypass planning first started 15 years ago, when concerns of gridlock at the unconventional three-way stop at the intersection of Highway 267 and Donner Pass Road were rising. Traffic problems were already brewing in the early 1980s and they have only gotten worse.
Funding has also been an issue as part of the 1982 Benefit Assessment Act for road maintenance financing. Eight years ago, when the project was stymied by resident opposition the funding expired. Today the funding is available, it is only a matter of timing to OK the project and proceed.
Accuracy of findings questioned
“With the findings, I’m wondering about the accuracy of the traffic model,” Steve Frisch, a downtown business owner, said. “If the study is accurate, the results will be very damaging (to the downtown).”
The traffic study addresses three options for Interstate 80 on and off ramps.
The first plan proposes keeping all ramps open at the interchange of Interstate 80 and Highway 267 – a plan proposed four years ago by Caltrans. The second plan proposes moving the ramps from the same intersection to the location of the bypass at Interstate 80. The third plan is a modification at the Interstate 80-Highway 267 interchange, leaving the eastbound off ramp and westbound on ramp open.
For convenience sake, the third option is expected to direct a significant amount of Glenshire Drive traffic toward the interstate and away from downtown congestion. Otherwise the concerns about the leaving the ramps status quo or closing them are again split.
According to the traffic study, eliminating existing ramps decreases traffic traveling over the Bridge Street
railroad crossing by 168 cars per hour, but would significantly increase traffic traveling through downtown – by 342 cars per hour. This would only add to the already gridlocked situation during peak hours in the area.
This too is only speculation based on the assumption that Glenshire and Olympic Heights residents would chose to take the Central Truckee exit and travel through downtown to and from their homes.
If the Caltrans plans are modified, traffic would be reduced both at the Bridge Street crossing and Commercial Row by a combined figure of 424 vehicles per hour at the three-way stop.
“The real problem is the traffic along Commercial Row,” Frisch said. “If there’s no train, the traffic flows relatively smoothly. But if there is a train, the street stops dead and people can’t get in or out of parking spaces. It is a safety concern especially with the fire station here.”
Truckee Fire Protection District officials agree with eliminating the circulation problems in the downtown area, but say they do not think the ramps are an issue.
The TFPD passed a resolution supporting the Caltrans plans for the bypass, regardless of the ramp closures.
“If we can move our engines out and respond, that is all that matters,” Deputy Chief Mike Terwilliger said. “The (traffic) study is based on speculation. If people want to discuss emergency response we welcome them to our board meetings to discuss our and their concerns.”
Frisch said he is concerned with the town’s slow response to the concerns with downtown traffic.
“I point to the number of times our town leaders and planning commission have said the downtown must be protected,” he said. “There have been recent events that have the potential to negatively impact (the downtown).”
He added that he doesn’t think the town should accept Caltrans’ “lipservice” about looking at the traffic study.
“If there is a ‘can-do’ attitude, Caltrans and the town can compromise and make this work,” he said. “We have the opportunity to change the proposed plans now and in the future.”
In a letter to Mayor Bob Drake, Caltrans’ Irene Itamura said ramp options would be considered within a four- to six-month period. However, in a follow-up interview with the Sierra Sun, she said not to count on anything changing from the proposed ramp closures.
“The 267 issues are something that could bring this town together,” Frisch said. “It is something the town could rally behind.”
He reiterated the position taken by the downtown merchants and their support for the bypass.
“We want the traffic problems to be corrected, but to say we would try to stop the bypass isn’t so,” he said. “There are too many people that think the merchants want to stop the project, when all along we have supported it. We have worked actively to bring it in.”
Frisch said he is preparing a package to present to the chamber of commerce and the town council about the feasibility of addressing issues that although separate, have an inter-relationship in the way they affect the town. He pointed to the Old Mill Site, Planned Community-2, the Downtown Specific Plan and other recent decisions made in reference to the town’s development.
He said if action isn’t taken on a town level he will pursue support from Gov. Pete Wilson’s office.
Drake said he believes a compromise will be reached on a town level.
“We are continuing to press Caltrans to consider the options we presented,” he said.
Town Planner Duane Hall said options would still be feasible even after construction on the bypass has begun.
“Deciding on the ramps won’t affect the bypass construction,” he said. “The two are not tied to each other.”
This would give the town two additional years to negotiate with Caltrans, he said. Construction is slated to begin in 1999.
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Motorists on Interstate 80 should expect delays today as the California Department of Transportation continues work on the $2.5 million Farad rockfall project.