Opinion: Squaw, Martis Valley West projects would worsen Tahoe traffic
May 12, 2016
Along with the long-hoped-for snow, last winter saw weekend after weekend of impressive traffic problems. For the sake of the economy, we all welcome the region's visitors, but excessive traffic doesn't just lower the quality of life for residents and sour the experience for our visitors. Increased auto traffic also causes harm to Lake Tahoe's clarity.
Recent science shows that fine sediment pollution — largely caused by cars crushing the road sands used to make winter driving safer — is responsible for the majority of the Lake's clarity loss.
Tailpipe emissions and dust kicked up by traffic are a significant source of nitrogen, which contributes to algal blooms. It would be very challenging to Keep Tahoe Blue in a future scenario where last winter's traffic becomes the new normal.
That's why the League to Save Lake Tahoe supports efforts to provide residents and visitors better, more convenient alternatives to driving. What's exciting is the potential for traffic relief for North and West Shore residents through the Fanny Bridge project.
Placer County staff have also been making praiseworthy progress toward the Tahoe Basin Area Plan, a planning effort that could set the county's Basin communities on a path toward more walkable and bikeable town centers.
This community plan may reduce the need for more car trips by concentrating destinations like restaurants, hotels and shopping within proximity of each other.
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For the League, the most important part of a good Area Plan is the opportunity to protect Lake Tahoe, and elements of Placer's Tahoe Basin Area Plan may well help drive environmental restoration of the meadows and wetlands that act as natural pollution filters for the Lake. These were key promises when the Tahoe region adopted its Regional Plan Update in 2012, which the League supported.
The League has concerns, however, that the good work by Placer County staff could be undone and considerable public input in the planning process could be to no avail.
Measures to curb North Tahoe traffic in the Area Plan will be fighting an uphill battle because of projected significant increases in traffic volumes caused by development projects outside the Basin. Analyses of the large project proposals at Squaw Valley and Martis Valley West forecast increased traffic in the Basin.
Fortunately, there is still time to arrive at an outcome that is best for Tahoe's residents, visitors and the Lake itself. Developers of out-of-Basin projects in Placer County still have time to modify their proposals to prevent their projects from worsening Tahoe's traffic woes.
Leaders in Placer County can keep their eyes on the prize after their years of labor by gaining the fullest cooperation of out-of-Basin developers to ensure the success of their area plan to protect the Lake. And the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency can provide the big picture guidance needed to secure the promise of the Regional Plan Update.
The good news is no one is intentionally advocating for more traffic congestion and a cloudier Lake, but this is Lake Tahoe, and we should be setting a high bar that demands careful scrutiny of out-of-Basin projects that negatively impact the Lake and the quality of life for residents and visitors.
Sure, it can be challenging to get the outcomes we all want, but solutions are at hand. With some hard work, we can still achieve the community vision Tahoe residents and visitors have sought and the protections Lake Tahoe needs.
Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, is the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization in the Basin, founded in 1957. Visit keeptahoeblue.org to learn more.