The Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) & Tahoe Transportation Commission (TTC) held a three-hour meeting Wednesday, January 5 starting at 3:00 pm. Full agenda is available here.
As a reminder: TTD receives policy direction from a twelve-member Board of Directors comprised of one member appointed from each of the following: the Boards of Supervisors of El Dorado and Placer Counties, the City of South Lake Tahoe City Council, the Boards of County Commissioners of Douglas and Washoe Counties, the Carson City Board of Supervisors, the Truckee-North Tahoe Transportation Management Association (TNT-TMA), the South Shore Transportation Management Association (SSTMA), the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and the Governors of the State of Nevada and the State of California. A member at large, representing a public or private transportation system operating in the region, is appointed by a majority of the other voting Directors. Representatives of Caltrans and NDOT sit on the Board as non-voting members. The Board meets once monthly, on the first Wednesday.
Discussion: Recent Holiday Travel Bottlenecks
At the Jan. 5 meeting Board members devoted significant time debriefing on the many transportation challenges that resulted from the history-making 2021 holiday snowstorm. While both CalTrans and NDOT officials commended the hard work of transportation workers on the ground working 24/7 to clear roads and aid motorists, they also acknowledged they were not fully prepared for “the most aggressive storm on record.” The team identified communication failures and reported equipment malfunctions contributed to road closures.
For instance, the CalTrans team lead reported that “working with 30-year-old equipment” hobbled the team. Of its 24 blowers, 11 were down. The operations readiness failures led to cannibalizing equipment wherever they could find it.
The opening of Highway 50 came as a surprise to some bi-state transportation team members. The lack of a coordinated announcement led to an onslaught of traffic and chaos. Compounding the lack of readiness, unprepared drivers extended backups and gridlock. Visitors who had nowhere to stay due to over-booked lodging streamed onto roadways to get back to California while I-80 remained closed. Backups of 35 miles and seven-to-nine-hour waits ensued.
CalTrans officials explained an added problem: the Google Maps teams has had a history of rebuffing attempts by the agency to improve traffic and road reporting. This meant desperate motorists relied on bad data about which roads were and were not accessible. The culpability Google Maps now feels, however, has led Google to initiate new dialogue.
Meanwhile, NDOT reported that it, too, was working with old equipment. The lead also reported it was hobbled by a 60% staff shortage.
There was general agreement that the lack of an overarching bi-state game plan and coordinated communication created excessive confusion and vowed “it cannot happen again.” Work is now underway to streamline communication and find ways to prepare for future storms.
About Item VIII TTD Business Items
A. Discussion and Possible Decision on Next Steps of a Revenue Proposal Addressing the Local and Private Share of a Regional Partnership Effort to Raise a Minimum $20 Million per Year for Transportation Improvements and Transit Services Related to Tahoe’s Regional Transportation Plan.
This item is one our community needs to monitor closely. One data point shared: 42% of traffic in the Tahoe Basin comes from day use from surrounding communities in California and Nevada.
Members of TTD held an extended discussion about the various ways to raise the $20 Million described above. Among the proposed ideas to raise those funds:
– A Vacancy Tax for single family homes in the Basin
– A Property Transfer Tax
– An increase in Sales Tax
– An increase in Transient Occupancy Tax
– A Zonal Entry Fee for the Tahoe Basin
Extended dialogue took place about the challenges in implementing the various taxes named above across different counties and two states. The first two taxes were removed from consideration after pushback from various board members about the administrative overhead associated with accounting for a vacancy tax (e.g. how many days qualify as occupied, by whom and how could that be verified). A realtor association member weighed in during public comment saying a property transfer tax would be hard to forecast due to the up and down cycles of real estate sales.
The board members agreed next steps would include gauging the appetite for an increased sales tax (possibly one-half percent) or an increase in the transient occupancy tax. The board also said it would need to explore the legality of a zonal entry fee. (Note: one board member pointed out Nevada’s constitution’s prohibits tolls). There were further discussions about how or whether vehicles or people would be charged a zonal entry fee, and whether Tahoe Basin residents might be exempt.
The board also discussed whether it might hire a consultant to poll a subset of Tahoe Basin residents as well as what might be involved in putting the items to vote in an upcoming election. It was noted that the registrar of voters for the five impacted counties would each receive the same language for a ballot.
No final decisions were made.