Truckee narrows Mousehole options |

Truckee narrows Mousehole options

courtesy imageMousehole Alternative One: Creating a second, separate tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists is the least expensive option for making safer the Highway 89 tunnel known as the Mousehole.
Caltrans | Ed Andersen

The Town of Truckee has taken a significant step in planning a solution for the Mousehole.

The Mousehole is the narrow Highway 89 tunnel in Truckee over which the Union Pacific railroad line runs. For years, widening the tunnel has been a town priority, but the project is swathed with difficulty, especially related to high costs and the need to maintain continuous railroad operations.

Truckee’s Town Council last week decided to eliminate two alternatives being explored for the Mousehole improvement, focusing town and Caltrans’ efforts on either one of the bridge-based solutions, or the less expensive secondary hole for pedestrians and cyclists. Council members and local residents debated safety and traffic issues, costs, and the need for four lanes.

Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins said pedestrian and bicycle safety, traffic capacity, emergency services access, and truck clearance were all issues to be considered in the project.

“The safety of pedestrians and cyclists is of paramount importance,” Wilkins said. “But traffic capacity and safety are related.”

Urging the council to look at the long-term ramifications of this project, Wilkins said the Mousehole should meet future needs as well as present.

“We may have one shot at this in our lifetime, and potentially our children’s lifetime,” Wilkins told the council. “A typical project like this has a 20-year lifespan, so should this be a 50-, or 100-year project?”

Many in attendance questioned the need for four lanes through the Mousehole, when it would still end-up two lanes going toward Tahoe City.

“The primary concern needs to be bicycle and pedestrian safety, not more traffic,” said Truckee resident John Eaton. “When those four lanes go down to two, it’s going to be very ugly.”

Council Member Carolyn Wallace Dee said not wanting four lanes shouldn’t preclude the two bridge options.

“If we build wide enough for four lanes it doesn’t mean we need four lanes now,” Wallace Dee said. “We need a long-term solution.”

Others were concerned about the growing cost of the project, with construction figures ranging from $6 million to $30 million.

“This is not going to get any cheaper. Putting it off will only make it worse and worse,” said Truckee resident Juanita Schneider.

Considering both the long-term impacts of the project and the escalating cost, council directed staff to eliminate options two and three, leaving the bridge options (four and five) to be further explored as potential long-term solutions, and option one (the addition of a pedestrian/ cyclist tunnel) as an affordable alternative, Wilkins said.

In moving forward with these alternatives, Caltrans and town staff will further explore aesthetic treatments for the bridge options, another complaint raised in the meeting, he said.

Within the next few months, a schedule will be created for the next phase of planning, as well as a budget commitment from Caltrans, Wilkins said.

Specific information exploring the bridge options with both two and four lanes will also be better fleshed-out as the narrowed list goes through the next level of review, he said.

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