The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Caltrans have come to a compromise on the color of a guardrail atop Brockway Summit.That is a good thing, considering that the alternative was one public agency taking another to court. Unfortunately, the compromise isn’t necessarily a win-win situation for everybody. The problem is the two agencies agreed that Caltrans will study the strength of colored guardrails for future use, an effort that could cost up to $750,000.That’s three-quarters of a million dollars out of taxpayers’ pockets to fix something that isn’t broken.The guardrail dispute started when Caltrans deviated from its TRPA permit during a storm run-off project and installed acid-etched galvanized rail instead of “rust rail.” Rust rail is brown in color and, according to the TRPA, blends in better with the environment. Caltrans maintains that rust rail is not as strong as the galvanized rail, and in the long run would cost more to test and maintain in an area where de-icers are used regularly.The fact that Caltrans didn’t comply with its permit is reason for TRPA to admonish the state. But read the TRPA ordinance on “highway fixtures” and one can begin to understand why Caltrans officials did what they did. TRPA insists that, “Earth tone colors of dark shades and flat finish shall be used on all highway fixtures.”In the next sentence, however, “New and replacement guardrails shall not have a shiny reflective finish.” Caltrans purposely used dulled guardrail by installing acid-etched metal to accommodate TRPA’s edict while maintaining its own standards “necessary to adequately provide for the safety of the highway user.” (That is from TRPA’s ordinance, not Caltrans.) And on top of a 7,200-foot summit where ice and snow abound and Lake Tahoe is barely – if at all – visible, we favor 400 feet of safety over earth tones. TRPA’s mission is to “preserve, restore and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe region now and in the future.” We’re all for that goal. However hard we tried, though, we couldn’t find anything in TRPA’s ordinances that said “fix things that aren’t broken.”
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