My Turn: My take on the Kings Beach decision
Washoe County Commissioner, District 1
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board voted unanimously to approve the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project (KBCCIP). We all have seen and heard conflicting and#8220;factsand#8221; distributed by supporters on both sides of this issue. Sorting through the information presented was extremely challenging. I’m writing this summary in order to give interested Washoe County residents my reasons for voting in favor of the project.
I and the other TRPA Board Members listened to approximately five hours of public comment regarding the KBCCIP. Here are some of the key concerns raised regarding the project, along with the results of my deliberation:
Narrowing the highway in King’s Beach from four travel lanes to two travel lanes will cause increased traffic congestion-Seems logical, right? Actually, it’s not. More than 99 percent of highway travel around the north half of the lake in Nevada and California takes place on two lane roads (one travel lane in each direction). The result is that traffic volume in any direction is controlled by the capacity of a single lane of travel for all of the north Tahoe area.
In other words, a one mile-long section of two travel lanes in each direction in Kings’ Beach has no effect on the number of cars that can enter or depart Incline Village or Crystal Bay.
The four-lane section does allow cars to and#8220;stackand#8221; (double-up side by side) for a short distance; however, my experience is there is a considerable overall slowdown of traffic when these vehicles are required to merge back into one travel lane.
When all is said and done, the traffic light in Crystal Bay seems to be much more of a factor in determining traffic flow in that portion of Washoe County than the number of travel lanes in King’s Beach.
The roundabouts will severely limit vehicular flow. There was much debate about the capacity of the roundabouts that are included in the project. This debate was fueled by reports generated by dueling experts. Proponents and opponents each had their experts weighing in on the issue.
The range of possibilities presented by the experts was one of and#8220;someand#8221; effect to a much more serious, and#8220;doomsdayand#8221; scenario. After reading the reports and listening to the testimony, it is my belief that while there will be days in coming years with periods of increased traffic congestion in King’s Beach, the many residual benefits of the project greatly outweigh the negatives.
Pedestrians will be allowed to stop traffic at the new crosswalks: Pedestrians currently have the right of way at crosswalks. I didn’t see any difference in the effect of the pedestrian crosswalks between conditions as they currently exist and those proposed. A point in support of the three lane proposal is that a major source of pedestrian injuries and deaths along that section of road is at the crosswalks where vehicles in the right lane slow down and stop as required and the left lane doesn’t. The three lane solution goes a long way to mitigate this dangerous condition.
The capacity for emergency evacuation will be reduced: This goes back to the false theory that the three-lane solution will greatly reduce the highway’s capacity to handle traffic. I responded to that argument earlier. In an all-out emergency evacuation, public safety officials would likely use the entire road, with both sides of the highway going in the direction of the evacuation. Again, the primary component that limits evacuation capacity is the two-lane roads that run in and out of all the communities in the north Lake Tahoe basin. Four lanes of highway for a short distance in King’s Beach add nothing to the ability of Incline Village and Crystal Bay residents to efficiently evacuate their homes during an emergency.
The proposed project will inhibit the movement of emergency vehicles: I probably don’t need to remind Incline Village and Crystal Bay residents that their primary emergency responders are situated in the immediate area and are not likely affected by the King’s Beach project. However, looking at the broader picture, at Lake Tahoe, public safety entities have agreements in place that provide for mutual assistance during emergencies. Input from police and fire agencies has led to a redesign of the roundabouts that are planned in King’s Beach. The new design provides for emergency vehicle travel in the center (turn) lane and the concrete curbs in the roundabouts have been designed to allow emergency vehicles to drive straight through the roundabout with little or no delay. I think this is a reasonable solution for the one mile section covered by the proposed project. However, the biggest limitation on emergency vehicle travel in and around our area is actually not going to change at all. This is because there is no proposal to modify the two lane roads that come into and exit the King’s Beach community.
Public Safety officials are opposed to the project: Contrary to what was stated in correspondence circulated by some opponents of the project, none of the emergency responders present at the meeting voiced opposition to the project in its current form. More specifically, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District maintained a neutral position on the project. Without a doubt, this lack of opposition was a big factor in my decision to vote in favor of the project.
There were many other issues that played a part in my support of the project. Some of them were:
There will be a positive effect on the overall environment.
There will be improved water quality as a result of the project.
There will be heightened pedestrian safety.
There will be enhanced safety for bicycle riders.
There will be expanded access for the handicapped.
There will be a long term revitalizing effect on downtown King’s Beach.
There will be additional parking in the downtown area on most days of the year.
And, there will be a more immediate economic boost for the area due to the creation of jobs resulting from the nearly $50 million of construction work associated with the project.
Will this solution make everyone happy? That may be an impossible task. However, a and#8220;Noand#8221; vote on this project was a vote for the status quo, a vote for keeping King’s Beach a community severed by four lanes of traffic in a hurry to go somewhere else. It is my belief that all those who live on the North Shore will ultimately benefit from this long overdue improvement.