Our View: The forecast calls for cars
There may not be snow in the forecast for the Presidents Day weekend, but you can bet on an onslaught of visitors.
Clear skies, dry roads and more vehicles on them should make getting around Truckee-Tahoe somewhat easier ” but not necessarily less frustrating ” than if we were getting pounded by snow and backed up by interstate slowdowns.
Nonetheless, a fat snowpack means visitors ” and their cars. The average annual daily traffic count over Donner Summit in 2004 was 36,500 vehicles with a 2.45 percent annual increase, according to Caltrans.
On a winter holiday like this weekend, you can calculate about 45,000 vehicles per day ” with about 70 percent of them inexperienced in driving in snow.
Not all of those 45,000 odd visitors are hitting the slopes though. Caltrans figures it’s something less. Ski areas in Tahoe-Truckee have parking capacity for about 15,000 vehicles. And as you well know, most of those drivers are hitting the roads at about 4 p.m.: 3,000 of them to the east and 12,000 of them to the west ” or to the nearest grocery store, it seems.
At full capacity ” 3,000 vehicles per hour ” during nice weather, Caltrans figures it takes about four hours to clear the traffic build-up in the area. Throw in a blizzard, or even just a chain control, and the traffic volume is lowered to about 900 vehicles an hour, which translates to 13 hours ” and gridlock ” before the area clears out.
What are we getting at? The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will conduct travel surveys with visitors and residents at 19 commercial and 23 recreational locations throughout the Tahoe Basin starting Feb. 22.
Results from the survey will be used to plan and track the success of various travel options around Lake Tahoe. TRPA will adopt a new regional transportation plan next year.
TRPA has teased us with the idea of a state-of-the-art Tahoe ferry in the past that would connect the North and South shores in about the time it takes to drive from Tahoe City to South Lake Tahoe via the East Shore.
And once at your destination, the system would have direct connections on land to bus service.
Now all we have to do is get Union Pacific on track so the Capitol Corridor train service can be extended out of the Sacramento Valley to Truckee with stops on Donner Summit.
Then we might have a truly comprehensive transportation system and less gridlock in our mountain home.