Traffic Congestion During the Winter of 2017: problems, agencies involved and solutions
Introduction and Overview:
On May 4, 2017 the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) convened a panel to discuss traffic congestion causes and solutions. Participants included Squaw Valley Ski Corporation, California Highway Patrol, Cal Trans, Placer County Public Works, Placer County Transit Services, and the Transportation Management Agency
Weather played a major role in inducing people to come to the mountains to ski. The huge volume of snowfall reduced parking spaces in Squaw Valley ski area by 25-50% due to snow storage. The storm pattern produced high winds at the Sierra Crest inhibiting operation of ski lifts and on some days closed the ski area. At the same time unprecedented numbers of people fought their way here to ski.
Between chain requirements, slippery roads, snow removal vehicles, and poor visibility the driving conditions were difficult, traffic became congested, and parking for skiers arriving after 10AM became problematic. A number of small fixes were suggested including improving signage regarding parking lot conditions, routing of and better timing at intersections, better three laning of Squaw Valley road, SV Ski Corp helping with snow removal on County roads, changing departure and arrival patterns, and providing increased on-line driver information
All panelists acknowledged that building bigger or wider roads was not viable (esthetically, physically, or financially) for this mountain community. Instead, bus transportation seems to be the most effective way to move people in the resort triangle (West Shore to Tahoe City to Truckee to Donner Summit, to 267 to Kings Beach to Incline Village and back to Tahoe City). TART is working to increase the frequency of rides, and ridership has been increasing. This year there is also increased TOT funding going to transit.
Because there is no one easy or clear solution to peak day traffic congestion, many small fixes can help manage congestion as was demonstrated during the World Cup races at Squaw Valley. However, truly reducing congestion requires fewer cars. However to move the same number of people (or even more once the two recently approved developments are completed) requires more people per vehicle in the winter and additionally increased trail use in the summer. To this end, there was great interest in assessing using a third lane on Hwy 89 exclusively for buses in order to make bus transportation faster than car transportation on congested days.
SQUAW VALLEY SKI CORP:
Mike Livak is the Squaw Valley Ski Holdings executive VP, and traffic/transit is in his domain. He noted an unprecedented interest in skiing this year possibly due to pent up demand during the drought years. The weather was also unprecedented. The month of January had the largest snowfall in recorded history accompanied by fierce winds pattern. For 80% of the days in January and February winds averaged 50mph, and for one third of the days the windspeeds were higher, closing lifts and making operations difficult. This meant fewer operating days with crews working tirelessly to control the effects of massive winds and snow on lifts and other equipment.
The parking lots were filled with so much snow that despite using all equipment, parking lot snow removal filled all available storage space and at times took up 25-50% of the parking spaces. Trucks were hired to haul away the snow at night and crews worked extra hours to open parking lots. A special snow melting machine was purchased to assist in dealing with the unprecedented amount of snow.
Squaw Valley pays for employees to use TART buses to get to the ski area rather than use their private vehicles. Squaw Valley also contributes $70,000 – $100,000 to underwrite TART operational costs. Squaw also provides an incentive for customers to carpool by providing parking in an area exclusively reserved for vehicles with 4 or more people. Squaw Valley has leased all available land for parking in Squaw Valley and has offered to clear snow from the Squaw Valley Park parking lot in order to add additional parking. Squaw Valley has used its own equipment to help the County clear and widen Squaw Valley Road during heavier snow storm
Squaw Valley provides free bus service between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. There were approximately 100,000 users of this bus system. Squaw Valley spent $100,000 to experiment with an “in valley” transit system provided by Chariot Inc (a principally Bay Area company providing point to point transit services) and it had reasonable success, despite limited promotion. Chariot was used during the Christmas holidays as well as during the World Cup race, as was off site parking at both the airport and 64 acres,
Squaw Valley has worked actively with all traffic management coalitions and planning groups and is a member of the 5 year transit planning committee.
Recognizing that more public transit is the key to the congestion problem, Squaw Valley has been advocating a third lane on Hwy 89 for buses and perhaps HOV vehicles. So far, they have gotten little positive response from the County or State agencies.
SQUAW VALLEY SKI CORP TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT:
Kyle Crezee is in charge of traffic management for Squaw Valley Ski Corp. and made the following report.
Traffic control at the intersection of Squaw Valley Road and Hwy 89 is coordinated to move the flow in and out of Squaw Valley as efficiently as possible. Third laning along Squaw Valley Road is used to promote traffic flow on peak days.
Electrified signs were placed and used with a real time management system to inform drivers of the status of parking at Squaw. One is placed just after the Mousehole (a MAC suggestion) allowing cars to turn off onto West River Rd rather than join the traffic. Crezee said that the signs indicate that the Squaw lot is full when the cars on the lot plus the ones in the queue on Squaw Valley Rd would fill the lot. At that time, the signs will direct people to Alpine’s parking as long as space is available there.
Speed limit signage was added along Squaw Valley road with electrified signs noting the speed of approaching vehicles. This was done to try to enforce safe speeds.
He noted a carpool program that provided valet parking area of 125 spaces for vehicles with 4 or more occupants. He noted off site parking was supplied during World Cup weekend with 52 space passenger buses utilized. Also over the snow vehicles were used to transport visitors staying at the resort at Squaw Creek.
Parking attendants are used throughout the parking lot. However, vehicles parked illegally along Squaw Valley road were a problem as parking lot attendants have no authority to prevent it. They did however call law enforcement when needed.
Two new snow loaders were purchased specifically to remove snow on Squaw Valley road to supplement Placer County efforts.
CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL:
Captain Stonebreaker noted he is a local resident, and has spoken out publicly that the traffic congestion is getting worse and the approved development projects will not be helpful.
The CHP tries to be very responsive to Squaw Valley traffic issues within the bounds of their resources, which he says are very limited (CHP has been staffed at the same level since 1970 despite an increase in need for their services.)
CHP’s prime responsibility is population safety, property protection, and law enforcement. When it comes to traffic issues, I-80 has priority. While CHP is responsible for enforcing parking laws along Squaw Valley Rd, they do not have the resources to do it on an ongoing basis, and come out when notified of a problem. This year the CHP was overwhelmed, and Stonebreaker anecdotally talked of issuing 40 parking tickets (not nearly as many as were illegally parked).
CALIFORNIA STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (CALTRANS):
Steve Nelson, from the California DOT, and one of his traffic engineers spoke. Steve advised that we are in District 3 which includes a large geographical area managed out of Marysville. Last winter had a devastating effect on I-80 and other major roads. They spent $128 million clearing the roads of rock and mud slides.
Truckee is the site of the Tahoe maintenance yard. From there Hwy 89 maintenance is performed up to Squaw Valley Rd. This winter there was a massive loss of trees with debris (including whole mature trees) falling onto Hwy 89. Also the roadway was severely worn down due to the number of chain days therefore requiring massive pothole repair. The necessary repair work is being evaluated, and it is estimated that 2 weeks will be needed to repair the damaged roads. Tahoe City maintenance comes out of the yard closer to Tahoe City.
The Hwy 89 third lane concept had been reviewed with the following problems noted:
- The mouse hole is a bottleneck. A third lane would move cars faster to a point but then the
mouse hole would create congestion.
- There are 55 access points along Hwy 89 which create potential conflict. Placing a third lane would compromise the middle left hand turn slots and also compromise the shoulder space. Without a left hand turn lane, vehicles would be stopped when allowing them to turn, which would back up 89 traffic
- It is questionable as to how much traffic can be effectively moved by a third lane full of traffic. In a very short time, it would become just as congested.
- There is currently no funding for a third lane.
- The third lane would require use of the road shoulders which were not engineered to take the loads.
PLACER COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS:
Peter Kraatz, Ass’t Director of Public Works operating out of Kings Beach, addressed seasonal volume problems due to weather. He noted that they worked with Squaw Valley to make traffic move better and safer
He suggested that buses can be an answer to congestion if they move people faster than an automobile. This requires improved roadways and more buses.
He noted that there is a recently released Tahoe Basin Transit Plan detailing the goals of the regional transportation system. It includes ideas on traffic flow improvement, use of technology, and multi-modal systems. But overall, moving away from motor vehicle trips to bus and trail use is the desired direction and the one recommended.
TAHOE AREA REGIONAL TRANSIT (TART)
Will Garner, from Placer County, outlined the history of development of bus transportation in North Tahoe. It started in 1993 with a bus that ran every two hours. By 2008 it ran at one hour intervals. By getting contributions from multiple sources both the number of stops and the number of ridership has greatly increased. This year a major effort is underway to increase the frequency of bus stops on the main routes. TART wants to go all year around with goals of arriving at bus stops every 1/2 hour.Major sources of revenue are TOT funds and sales tax funds.
At times this past winter, TART operated almost 24 hours each day because the weather had delayed routes and by the time the night routes finished and the buses got serviced, the morning crews started to arrive and begin another cycle.
Any time a new service is introduced, ridership is always slow to develop, but past experience seems to show that the demand is there, and after 3 years of operation, the payback begins to appear..
TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT AGENCY:
The TMA acts as a marketing and umbrella organization with representatives from a host of municipal and transit/transportation organizations (including the major resorts). The goal is to encourage public/private cooperation to enhance and promote transportation in the resort triangle and to/from the Reno airport. It has a 13 member Board of Directors. The TMA does advocacy, public outreach, marketing, program management, needs assessments, bike/hike trails initiatives, and construction traffic management plans.
One of the TMA projects is a shuttle service for North Lake Tahoe to and from the Reno Airport. They have finished a plan to coordinate TART in order to make it a regional bus service. It now has routes within Placer and Nevada Counties and within California and Nevada. This was done to make the transit logical for our region despite political boundaries
A broad coalition of organizations (including NLTRA, Placer County, TMA, etc) dealing with transportation meets the first Thursday of each month at Granlibakken Resort at 8AM and the meeting is open to the public. This meeting is then followed by a meeting of a smaller group that focuses on the resort triangle vision at which the TMA plays a major role.
These presentations were followed by questions from the public:
Chase Schweitzer spoke on behalf of Sierra Watch and pointed out that going forward there is a new Squaw Valley village plan that would reduce parking by 2,000 units. He indicated that this is a potential problem to consider when evaluating future traffic congestion issues.
SQUAW VALLEY MICRO MASS TRANSIT DISTRICT
A spokesperson for the HOA Forum indicated that there is a committee considering how to develop a micro mass transit district for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The goal is to provide an intra-valley shuttle (similar to the Chariot trial) and offer evening runs to Tahoe City and Truckee. Funding for the system is envisioned to come from 3 equal parts: Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, a 1% increase in TOT taxes in the transit district, and from an allocation from Eastern Placer TOT funds.
In response to comments from the MAC, Steve Nelson said that he would provide contact information to his boss, Ray Zhang, in order to set up a meeting to discuss a limited pilot program using 3 lanes on 89 between the mousehole and Squaw Valley for buses. Squaw Valley has said that they would underwrite the costs of such a pilot program and would attend, as would Peter Kraatz from Placer DPW. Steve indicated that public support might cause them to rethink their opposition to such a pilot. The goal would be to assess the impact upon automobile traffic if such a service were provided. The effort to set up that meeting has begun.
Friends of Squaw Valley