Mousehole money in Congress
August 30, 2004
Pedestrians and bicyclists weary of navigating Truckee’s harrowing “mousehole” may have $3 million in federal help on the way.Widening the railroad underpass on state Route 89 south – the subject of regional planning for years – has caught the attention of Truckee’s representative to Congress, John Doolittle, and may net $3 million out of a $284 billion federal transportation bill that is currently navigating the federal legislative process.If Doolittle’s effort to fund the project remains in the broader transportation bill, it would help move forward planning and environmental clearance that has been stalled by a lack of financing.”The problem right now is that there is not funding to start the next phase of design and environmental review,” said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.
The narrow tunnel is heavily used by pedestrians headed to the Crossroads shopping center and bicyclists heading up and down state Route 89.”I see people going through here are 50 [mph],” said Jay Sommer, who often walks and bikes through the tunnel. “It’s nasty. It’s an accident waiting to happen.Sommer said the combination of vehicle speed and the narrowness of the opening is dangerous even for vehicles.”I ride a bike through there and I have to wait for a clearance,” said Sommer. “It’s about as narrow as it gets.”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 Wilkins.
“Optimistically it would be a three-year design and environmental review process,” said Wilkins, and that is if the funding becomes available. A federal allotment of $3 million would get the project to a point where it could be put out to bid, said Wilkins. But there are two significant obstacles that the legislation must overcome before funding can be funneled into the so-called mousehole. First, the House transportation bill must retain the funding for the project when it merges with the Senate’s version in a conference committee. The mousehole project is one of nearly 1,800 earmarked projects in the house bill, said Wilkins. The bill passed by the senate is a $319 billion form of the transportation legislationRichard Robinson, spokesman for Doolittle, said that they hope the bill will be merged in the September conference committee and passed before Congress is adjourned in October. However, other officials have indicated the transportation compromises may only be successful following the November elections, said Robinson. The final bill must also avoid a veto by President George Bush, a move he has signaled he will make if the bill remains over $256 billion.
“To whittle a bill down, especially when the one bill is more than the president said he will accept, is very hard,” said Robinson.The transportation re-authorization has been especially difficult on the eve of a presidential and congressional election in which congressmen are pushing for highway projects for their districts, while the president and some senators are urging fiscal control, said Robinson.”It has been a tough re-authorization and part of that is because we are in a re-election year,” he said.Doolittle first was alerted to the mousehole problem by town staff, but a visit to the area a year and half ago gave him a first-hand look at the constricting undercrossing.”It is a high personal priority for him,” said Robinson. “When you drive through it you can appreciate why there needs to be an improvement.”