Traffic backup Heavy volume takes town by ‘surprise’
Gridlock on Truckee’s streets Monday had many residents wondering what happened to the town’s holiday traffic plan, adopted last year to handle heavy traffic at the end of holiday weekends.
Conspicuously missing from the streets on Martin Luther King Day were the Placer County Sheriff’s traffic control officers who normally assist in Truckee with traffic control, as well as the coned-off lane on Donner Pass Road which allows residents of the Armstrong Tract to reach their homes when Interstate 80 westbound closes and Donner Pass Road becomes a parking lot.
Town of Truckee Public Works Supervisor Tom Covey said traffic control measures were not in place because the town’s information indicated most people left the area on Sunday.
“What we do is poll the ski areas on ticket sales and check the occupancy ratings of hotels in the area,” Covey said. “Basically, that showed the places emptied out Sunday afternoon. The best information we had at the time was that they were empty Sunday.”
He said traffic control officers were on standby Sunday in Truckee.
“On Monday afternoon, we’re not sure where everyone came from,” he said. “Caltrans was taken by surprise and we were taken by surprise.”
He said one factor which contributed to the rush of traffic was the closure of I-80 westbound due to accidents toward Reno that day.
“It closed three times,” he said. “When it opened, that was like opening a floodgate. There were an inordinate amount of people in Reno, which we did not expect. We don’t use Reno as an indicator.”
He said the town would be taking a closer look at Reno occupancy figures in the future, instead of just the Tahoe Basin as it has in the past.
“The next big weekend is Presidents’ Day,” Covey said. “We are going to be prepared for it, whether or not the skier counts are down.” He said the decision to implement traffic control measures is sometimes a hard call because of the cost.
“We have had traffic control out three times this year on standby, with us paying people,” Covey said. “This time the indicators said there would be no traffic. We didn’t call them and we got whacked.”
Motorists out on the roads Monday just wished a solution could be found to the problem.
Alice Moses, an employee of Nevada County who lives within the Donner Memorial State Park was stopped in front of the Truckee Elementary school building Monday on her way home from a doctor’s appointment. Moses said it took her over an hour to get from the Safeway parking lot to where she was stopped.
“I have some real health issues. I keep thinking what if an ambulance had to get to me at home. It couldn’t.”
Bill and Cassie Denton decided it would be quicker to walk home to the top of the Armstrong Tract from the light at Northwoods Blvd. than to wait in traffic with driver Pam McAdoo. And it was.
Mike Sullivan was traveling to his office on Donner Lake and had been stuck in the gridlock for 40 minutes. When asked if there was anything he’d like to say about the traffic situation he responded, “Nothing you’d like to print.”
Phoebe Bell said “I wish they had a way to Donner Lake without having to deal with holiday traffic.” Similarly, another traveler who wished not to be identified said, “I’ll just be really glad when the holidays are over.”
Two members of the Harvest Christian Center Church Group of Redwood City also expressed displeasure at the situation.
Benji Cantwell of Redwood City said, “I don’t think I know what’s going on. I don’t know why we’re sitting here going nowhere.”
Anna Portales, also of the Redwood City church group, has been coming with the group on the Martin Luther King holiday for three years. “We get stuck here every year,” she said, looking up and down Donner Pass Road.
Glen Curtis said he’s been in Truckee 30 years and is familiar with the gridlock situation. “What can you do about it? Just grin and bear it, I guess. But better signs would be great.”
Sergeant Bill Evans of the Nevada County Sheriff’s office said that traffic control measures bypass the NCSO because the matter has been decided between the Truckee Public Works department and Placer County’s traffic control division.
Three NCSO deputies responded to assist with traffic control at various in town, including the westbound off-ramp at Donner Gate, where several big rigs became stuck in the snow throughout the day.
Covey said all the public works snow removal workers were on duty Monday, coping with the heavy, slushy snow which blanketed the town.
“On holiday weekends it is difficult,” he said. “We called everyone in, so they didn’t get their holiday.”
He said snow removal work might have been delayed somewhat due to an emergency situation which arose on Skislope Way.
“There was a person shopping for real estate on Skislope who got stuck,” Covey said. “We have a five-man crew plowing Tahoe Donner. If three of them are out helping a person, that bumps everyone back on their routes.” He said the incident cost about 9 hours of plowing time, because three workers, three pieces of equipment were tied up for three hours.
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A Truckee man died last week after falling off the back of a moving car, authorities said.