The Town of Truckee is looking for local groups to weigh the pros and cons of the two remaining options to improve the Mousehole underpass for pedestrians, bicyclists, and traffic.
Town Council narrowed solutions down to two options for the Highway 89 south undercrossing of the Union Pacific Railroad, but many questions remain.
Besides the obvious discrepancy in costs between building a second pedestrian/bicycle tunnel and an entirely new bridge “$6 million and $30 million, respectively ” impacts on the environment, traffic, and historic issues further muddy the waters.
To sort through these and other issues, the town will put together a committee of representatives from groups like the Truckee River Watershed Council, the Truckee Donner Historical Society, and residents of the Donner Creek Mobile Home Park.
“There is no clear right answer at this point in the process,” said Public Works Director Dan Wilkins. “There are a lot of nuances to either of the two options getting built.”
Members of the ad hoc committee would help town staff wade through some of the potential impacts of each alternative, and ultimately make a recommendation to the town council on which impacts are acceptable and which are not, Wilkins said.
But no matter the option chosen, just about everybody agrees something needs to be done.
“It’s kind of scary, one car came really close to me,” said Jay Ikard of Alpine Meadows after walking through the narrow tunnel Monday afternoon.
Wilkins said the first option, boring a smaller tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists next to the existing Mousehole, would have fewer impacts on water quality, historical resources as well as vehicle and train traffic, and would cost less than rebuilding the Mousehole to accommodate all the users.
Yet, Wilkins added that alternative may not meet the town’s goals.
“It would be the best option from the standpoint of the impacts of the project, but it doesn’t fully meet the purpose and need of the project to address pedestrian, bicycle and traffic issues,” Wilkins said.
Replacing the Mousehole with an entirely new bridge, a larger structure that would create space for more traffic, bicycle, and pedestrian lanes, could present challenges with Donner Creek and traffic circulation during construction, he said.
Executive Director Lisa Wallace of the Truckee River Watershed Council said the group would closely watch the potential impacts of new construction on Donner Creek.
“That stretch of the creek is already impacted, but there are a lot of riparian zones that are surprisingly robust we would want to protect,” Wallace said.
Executive Director Leigh Fitzpatrick of the Truckee Trails Foundation said the nonprofit is more interested in adopting a solution than in which solution is picked.
“How long can we hold out with the ever-present danger of somebody getting hit in the Mousehole?” Fitzpatrick said. “Part of this is choosing an option, but the other is finding what pressure you can exert to get things moving faster.”
John Eaton, president of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, said he also had fewer concerns about the environmental impact of the two alternatives than with the hazard posed by the proposed options.
“Four lanes (in the bridge solution) is more than necessary: It would be more dangerous to cross, and will cause a bottleneck down the road,” Eaton said. “I would like to see a two-lane bridge solution with pedestrian and bicycle access down both sides.”