Town residents fight to keep 267 ramps open
Truckee residents packed town hall during last week’s council meeting to conceptually support the Highway 267 Bypass but oppose the latest design plan.
With Caltrans officials in attendance, about 20 people stepped to the podium Sept. 4 to voice concerns about the bypass’ current alignment. And most agreed the design requirement to close the on and off ramps at the current Highway 267-Interstate 80-Highway 89 North interchange was not acceptable.
Heidi Sykes, Caltrans project manager for the bypass, said the final alignment was chosen for its design and cost effectiveness. Other alignments proposed during past public hearings included adverse environmental impacts, increased construction costs and brought the route in close proximity to the downtown area and Olympic Heights subdivision, she said.
“There was a lot of public input on this. As Caltrans engineers, we feel this is an excellent design,” Sykes said. “This is the alternative we wanted, this is the alternative the public wanted and this is the alternative our environmental staff wanted.”
Should the current design move forward – the $18 million project is funded for construction in 1999 – eastbound travelers stopping in downtown Truckee would have to cross I-80 to the north, continue to a new intersection at Highway 89 and turn south, cross I-80 again and make a left turn to an eastbound I-80 on ramp. But Sykes said in order to access Truckee’s downtown area, travelers are only required to go about a half mile out of their way.
Dan Landen, Nevada County’s transportation commission executive director, warned not moving ahead with the project could result in a significant construction delay. The California Transportation Commission, which allots state funding for highway projects, could reapportion the money to other projects if a final design plan doesn’t move forward.
“We could stand to lose this at the year 2000 and to not get the funding back for another 7 years,” Landen said.
And changing the alignment is not as easy as moving the current interchange west to keep it open. Caltrans Design Engineer Doug Jones said there is not enough room east of the Central Truckee exit to accommodate the move as design standards require 1,100 feet and seven and one-half seconds between the exit sign and the off ramp.
Councilman Josh Susman said he thought keeping the ramps open should not be a difficult task for Caltrans.
“It seems to me without doing any work at all, to start the off ramp to the west of the existing off ramp and create your 1,100-foot, seven-and-a-half-second tourist confusion route would be a very simple fix to this,” Susman said. “We’ve see Caltrans work miracles with Los Angeles in the earthquakes, we’ve seen Caltrans work miracles with San Francisco in the earthquakes, we’ve seen them do some pretty good work on Highway 20; we are not asking for large miracles here, we are just asking for a couple of off ramps.”
Truckee resident and former mayor Breeze Cross said the design map clearly shows the ramps were to be eliminated, which shocked him at first.
“At first I was shocked, but in looking at it, I thing that in the long term Truckee is really going to benefit by this,” Cross said.
Most of the traffic using the westbound on ramp is not local and confusion there would be limited, Cross said. “I don’t think there is going to be a big impact on our lives if the westbound on ramp isn’t there.”
As for the eastbound off ramp, Cross said most people coming to Truckee use the Central Truckee exit anyway.
“I don’t see it as being that bad a thing. I support this bypass. If we don’t get it, there isn’t going to be any desire to go to downtown Truckee.”
Steve Frisch, representing the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association, said the current configuration confuses locals and visitors alike, and if the design is followed vehicles trying to access downtown Truckee have to go through the roundabout, which is scheduled for construction this spring at the Central Truckee exits.
The bypass design also challenges the Downtown Specific Plan philosophy by changing design guidelines and necessitating Donner Pass Road be widened to four lanes, Frisch said.
“The Downtown Merchants Association supports and has supported the concept of the Highway 267 bypass and we would not want to do anything to damage that project and we would like to see that project go forward,” Frisch said. “I would like to join the other community groups that are here tonight and the downtown merchants join the other community groups present here tonight to oppose the closure of the existing ramps and try to find a unique solution to this problem.”
Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager Rachelle Pellissier said the chamber board has supported the bypass, but did not realize design plans called for closing the ramps.
“We are not in favor of closing those exits and on ramps but we are very much in favor of the bypass,” she said.
Town resident Jody Sweet asked why a Caltrans did not address the bug station if it was trying to alleviate traffic and safety concerns in the Truckee area.
“It just seems ridiculous that engineers designed something and then they leave the dam still in the middle of the stream,” Sweet said. “You are still going to have a jam clogged up no matter what you design if the bug station is not moved to the east.”
Mountain Area Preservation Foundation President Stefanie Olivieri questioned the height of bypass as it crosses the Truckee River, which Sykes said spans 1,500 feet and rises 90 feet above the water.
“That’s nine stories and that’s over two and a half times the height of the Truckee Hotel. I don’t know if people recognize that,” she said. “We have supported the concept of a bypass and we still support it, however, we believe that because this community is a tourist-based community and because aesthetics and our natural beauty are so important, the 90-foot, over a quarter mile span of bridge across this river is going to be a very shocking sight after it is finished.”
Mayor Bob Drake and another councilmember are scheduled to meet with Caltrans officials and Sen. Tim Leslie to work out a solution to the problem, according to Town Manager Steve Wright. Congressman Wally Herger and Assemblyman Bernie Richter have also been notified of the problem.
In addition, Nevada County Supervisors issued a resolution supporting Truckee’s quest to keep the highway ramps open to benefit downtown businesses. The action was requested by 5th District Supervisor Sam Dardick, who represents Truckee.
In the meantime, Sykes said the Caltrans structure department will be in the area performing foundation corings and “pot holing” to relocate utility poles.
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