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Truckee delegation heads to Washington

JOHN A. BAYLESS, Sierra Sun

Truckee will take its fight to preserve two freeway ramps to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 4, when a delegation from the town will meet with the top Federal Highway Administration official.

The California FHWA office recently rejected a plan proposed by Truckee and endorsed by Caltrans which would have retained the west-facing ramps at the Interstate 80/Highway 89 interchange following construction of the Highway 267 Bypass.

Caltrans’ original design for the project removed all ramps at the interchange, and prompted widespread community concern, because of the reduced freeway access to downtown and the potential impact of increased traffic on the other off-ramps.

After months of discussions with Caltrans and about $140,000 in engineering and design expenditures by the town, the state agency agreed to forward a plan to retain the ramps to FHWA in Sacramento, which swiftly rejected it last month.

Since then, town staff and council members have been in communication with Rep. Wally Herger, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Diane Feinstein and are now prepared to take the town’s appeal to the next level – meeting with Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth Wykie.

Town Manager Steve Wright said the delegation could face difficulties in overcoming the rejection letter from the Sacramento FHWA office.

“Hearing from our legislative representatives, FHWA may be negative about this already,” he said. “We’re going to work to change that.”

Mayor Ron Florian said the delegation will include himself and Council Member Bob Drake, along with Wright, Town Engineer Dan Wilkins and Steve Frisch of the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association. He said representatives from regional agencies will also travel with the delegation, including California Transportation Commissioner Ed Sylvester, Nevada County Transportation Commissioner Dan Landon, and Steve

Teshara of the Truckee-North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.

“We’re well-represented,” Florian said. “I’m very excited and positive that our efforts will show some benefit.”

On Wednesday, Wright and Florian planned to meet to discuss plans for the meeting with FHWA.

“I’m trying to work on it and divide up the issues for various members of the delegation,” Wright said. “We will talk about the broad based legislative and regional support and focus on the technical engineering issues – the reasons why the Sacramento FHWA rejected the proposal and the reason we believe those issues could be resolved.”

Wright said the delegation will also focus on the language of recent federal highway funding legislation.

“The language in those bills clearly speaks to the need to provide flexibility and interface with local transportation systems to deal with problems such as these,” Wright said.

If FHWA is steadfast in its refusal of the town’s design, Wright said legislators have proposed alternatives.

One of the legislators said ‘Don’t take no for an answer,'” Wright said. “Even if we go and they say ‘No,'” there are two other avenues. The first would be a meeting with the FHWA in a senator’s office. If we still get a ‘No’ there, then there’s the possibility of a legislative answer where Congress passes a bill to take it out of the FHWA’s hands.”

Wright said he’s hopeful one solution will work, and reflected that the town faced a similar situation when state legislators overruled the California Department of Finance to allow passage of a sales tax measure specifically for road repairs.

“This is a federal issue, so we have to go to the mountain,” he said.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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