Opinion: Tahoe-Truckee traffic jams could return if cut-through traffic isn’t halted
February 3, 2015
If you've been a Truckee-North Lake Tahoe property owner for a few years, you will remember what traffic congestion used to be like along Highway 267 on a peak ski day. Sometimes traffic backed up all the way to I-80.
The traffic congestion problems at Northstar and on Highway 267 improved greatly thanks to a comprehensive traffic management system put into place, including intercept lots and intersection improvements.
But now, we have a situation at Northstar that threatens to return us to the "bad old days" of heavy traffic congestion. On Jan, 20, the Sierra Sun published an article entitled "Neighboring Northstar, Martis Camp subdivisions at a crossroads," which reported on the dispute between the Retreat at Northstar and Martis Camp communities regarding an effort by Martis Camp residents to have unrestricted use of two roads that connect the developments, but which were created as emergency vehicle access roads.
Unfortunately, the article makes no mention of these regional traffic implications. Even more important, what might seem like a dispute between neighboring communities is actually about disregard by the County of Placer of its own procedures for review and approval of development proposals.
In the last few months, Placer County Supervisors have received many letters, calls and emails from residents asking the county to reaffirm what all county planning documents already recite, namely that only emergency and transit vehicles are allowed to cut through the Northstar Retreat neighborhood — not general residential "commute" traffic from the neighboring Martis Camp development.
If this Martis Camp cut-through traffic is allowed to continue, vehicles from 650 single family homes will be dumped onto Northstar Drive, bypassing the Northstar intercept lots.
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This traffic will once again back up Northstar Drive and Highway 267, and we'll be back where we started from before the successful traffic management program was implemented.
By avoiding the Northstar traffic management system, the Martis Camp vehicles cause traffic backups, and this wastes fuel and increases greenhouse gases.
The Martis Camp traffic cutting through the Retreat neighborhood at Northstar is much more than a neighborhood feud. It affects traffic in the entire Truckee-North Lake Tahoe region.
It also calls into question the issue of trust between residents and county government. When millions of dollars are spent on planning documents and traffic studies, it is vital that we be able to trust that the county will follow its own planning documents and honor the conditions imposed when approving new development projects.
Granting general traffic open access through an Emergency Vehicle Access gate violates the Martis Camp Environmental Impact Report and the development's Conditions of Approval.
County planning documents for Martis Camp call for all general traffic from the community to use the community's main entrance (Schaffer's Mill Road). Martis Camp roads and intersections were designed and sized to handle this traffic volume.
County planning documents for the Retreat neighborhood at Northstar call for these neighborhood roads to be designed and sized to serve only traffic generated by the neighborhood's 18 homes.
As a result, Retreat neighborhood roads are narrow — only 22 feet wide — and they are built at the maximum steepness the county allows in snow areas. They were never designed or sized to handle general vehicle traffic from 650 homes at Martis Camp. And county planning documents never studied such a scenario either.
Citizens are asking Placer County to:
1. Follow its own planning documents and restore public trust in county government.
2. Put an end to Martis Camp traffic cutting through the Retreat neighborhood at Northstar and bypassing the area's carefully designed and successful traffic management system.
3. Limit traffic cutting through the Retreat neighborhood to only emergency and transit vehicles, which is what county planning documents say.
At the Dec. 9, 2014, Placer County Board of Supervisors hearing regarding this issue, Northstar residents were pleased with the response and comments of supervisors to this issue and their willingness to listen and respond to residents' concerns.
We hope, for the sake of the entire Truckee-North Lake Tahoe region, the Placer County Supervisors will do the right thing and ensure that county planning documents are honored and enforced.
Geoff S. Stephens is general manager of the Northstar Property Owners Association.