EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. – As most in the South Lake Tahoe and Meyers area already know, getting out of town over US50 and Echo Summit on Sundays and holidays can be slow moving during summer, but during the winter it can be a miserable time both for visitors and locals.
Mapping apps like Waze and Google can detect through Bluetooth and phones in vehicles where bottlenecks are and send drivers onto surface streets and through neighborhoods not equipped to handle the extra traffic. Especially during chain control situations, cars clog up arteries like North Upper Truckee Road and Sawmill Road. Most snowy exit travel days have cars at a standstill on these, and other roads. Residents cannot get to or from work or to the grocery store, emergency personnel and snow plows cannot get through, and frustrated travelers don’t have access to food or restrooms.
In an attempt to get the maps to lead people only onto US50 for their trip west, the El Dorado County Transit Advisory Committee met with local advocates and law enforcement to evaluate two right-hand turn plans created by Meyers resident Tony Risso, retired law enforcement, and developed by volunteers including Jeffrey Spencer, a transportation planner.
The committee voted to send the proposed pilot program to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors at an upcoming meeting for their approval. If approved the restrictions will start in spring 2021. Even though many expressed a desire to start sooner, the collaboration with Caltrans and putting new signs in their right-of-way will take a while.
The California Highway Patrol, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and El Dorado County Department of Transportation (DOT) all participated in the discussion and said they are will to give it a try.
Daryl Brown of DOT said starting the plan this Labor Day would be too soon and there’d be an increase in risk and liability. The Caltrans representative at the meeting, Caltrans District 3 Chief Traffic Operations Brian Alconcel, said the risk is too high to try the plan out for the first time during winter.
Right hand turn restrictions will be placed at US50 and North Upper Truckee Rd., and US50 and Sawmill Rd. on Sundays and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This restriction is for all motorists, locals or not. For four-day holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the right-turn restrictions would be for all four days.
DOT will upload all dates of federal holidays the restrictions will be in place at the beginning of the year along with the signage verbiage that will state these closures and the mapping apps will not be allowed to send people down them. If anyone makes a right turn the apps would assume the roads are open and start sending traffic that way so it will be important that all people obey the rules.
Unfortunately this plan will most likely send vehicles onto other roads like Mandan and Apache, but all said they were willing to see if it could work on the two main arteries before addressing the other issues.
Spencer said truckers need to abide by rules and not use personal phones that could send them onto North Upper Truckee in a blinding snow storm. He said the design of the plan is to help traction control for all vehicles.
Caltrans is concerned that the signs will not have the desired impact and people will make the right turns anyways. If they turn right, the apps will know and the plan will not work. They also want to see if driver behavior changes in good weather with the spring start to the plan.
“This is a safety issue for our community,” said Amanda Ross of the Transit Authority and South Shore resident.
“We want this to be successful to preserve our community,” said Spencer of the plan. “Temporary closures won’t work.”
Sixty-year resident Leona Allen spoke during public comment and asked the committee to get the plan started this coming winter.
“You need to respect the safety of the residents and it is irresponsible to not help this winter,” said Allen.
Janet McDougall who lives off of Mandan and will most likely be heavily impacted when the plan goes into place said, “We need to start somewhere, but how long till we see relief?”
Transportation officials and law enforcement will study the pilot program and watch impacts on other areas and will “adapt accordingly.”
DOT Director Rafael Martinez said he hasn’t stopped thinking of the plan to alleviate traffic in neighborhoods since his arrival to the county three years ago when Supervisor Sue Novasel first brought it to his attention.
“We want to implement something as risk free and safe as possible,” said Martinez. He thanks Spencer and Risso for bringing the turn restriction plan forward as it was “the first plan that has potential.”
“We want something to be successful and study in ideal conditions,” said Alconcel.
If approved by the Board of Supervisors and Caltrans, the right turn pilot program would be in place from March to November 1, 2021.