Mousehole funding passes U.S. House | SierraSun.com

Mousehole funding passes U.S. House

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

When a $284 billion transportation bill cleared the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the prospect of widening a dangerously narrow tunnel that runs under Truckee’s railroad tracks brightened.

Backed by the region’s congressional representative, John Doolittle (R” Rocklin), $3.5 million for widening the “mousehole” underpass on Highway 89 south is in the six-year transportation reauthorization bill. The next step for the bill is the U.S. Senate, where it will be voted on, possibly by the end of next month.

The $3.5 million represents a $500,000 increase in funding from what Doolittle had said he would push for in the bill.

Funding for the mousehole widening has been the main obstacle to efforts to make pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists safer in the narrow concrete tunnel. And while officials agree that $3.5 million is not enough to complete work at the underpass, it is viewed as a enough money to jumpstart the planning and environmental review process.

The Town of Truckee has taken the lead on the complicated project that involves Caltrans, Union Pacific Railroad, Nevada County and to some extent Placer County. Widening the existing passage, or building a second undercrossing, is saddled with the extra challenge of completing the work while railroad traffic continues on the tracks above. Nearby Donner Creek will also put the project under added environmental review scrutiny, said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.

“Optimistically it would be a three-year design and environmental review process,” Wilkins said.

A federal allotment of $3 million would get the project to a point where it could be put out to bid, said Wilkins. Truckee officials are hoping that state, county and local money would follow the federal funding to finance the project.

But there is a significant obstacle that the legislation must overcome before funding makes it to the underpass. The final version of the bill, which will come out of a conference committee between the House and the Senate, must contain the funding for the project.

The final bill must also avoid a veto by President George Bush, a move that seems less likely than when the bill was going through the House of Representatives before the November election, said Richard Robinson spokesman for Doolittle’s office.

Truckee officials are asking citizens to contact California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and ask them to support funding for the mousehole in the final version of the transportation bill. A Senate vote on the transportation bill is expected by the end of April, said Howard Gantman, spokesman for Dianne Feinstein’s office.