What’s usually red, rarely green and has bad timing? | SierraSun.com

What’s usually red, rarely green and has bad timing?

OK, I have a riddle for you: What’s usually red, rarely green and has bad timing?

You guessed it ” the new stoplight at Highway 267 and Northstar Drive, installed by East West Partners as part of an agreement for their 1,450-condo development planned for Northstar-at-Tahoe.

Undoubtedly, most of us who belong to the Commuter Club that drives from the North Shore to Truckee, or vice versa, have shaken our fists ” or the special finger reserved for fits of rage ” at the North Shore’s newest steel behemoth. And I’m not even getting into how “well” (note my “sarcasm”) it handles weekend skier traffic.

For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to know what I’m talking about, let me paint a picture. As my old Suby gets a running start out of the Martis Valley to make it over Brockway Summit, I turn the bend just before Northstar and I see a beautiful green light.

“Ah finally,” I think to myself, “I’ll maintain my speed (55 mph, of course) and get past this damn thing once and for all.

“I will make it up to the summit without shifting into third!”

But then, alas, green turns to yellow and yellow to red. I sit there and I wait. I don’t just wait for the light to turn green. I also wait for a car, a bicycle, a toboggan ” anything ” to come down Northstar Drive. Cars begin to line up behind me. Something must have triggered this light, right?

Therein lies the problem. The stoplight is not triggered by those fancy camera motion sensor thingies that sit atop the poles; it’s on a timer, according to Rick Carfrae, Caltrans electrical maintenance engineer.

In the winter, Carfrae said, they can’t use the fancy camera motion sensor thingies because the northbound left-turn lane going into Northstar is used for temporary snow storage during storms (snow storage in the middle of a highway?). Therefore, cars can’t trigger the left arrow on the signal.

“Do you want me to drive up there every two hours to change the signal?” he asked.

“Of course not.”

So until March or April ” when Caltrans turns on the fancy camera motion sensors ” the signal will be on a timer.

My Wednesday conversation with Carfrae left me with a slightly better understanding of why things are the way they are. That is, until my Thursday drive to work in Truckee.

As I drove down from Brockway Summit toward the Northstar Drive intersection Thursday morning, snow dusted the roadway. I slowed my speed, knowing that chain control van would be sitting in the middle of the road, checking cars headed up the summit.

The light was not green this time. It was a flashing red, as it has been every time there has been a storm over the past few weeks. As it has every time a storm would warrant putting snow in the left-hand turn lane.

This time, instead of shaking my fist, I shook my head and stopped at the light for what surely wouldn’t be the last time that day.

Renee Shadforth is assistant editor of the Sierra Sun. Contact her at


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