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South Lake Tahoe set to begin widening ‘Y’ in June

Elaine Goodman
Nevada Appeal News Service
Jim Grant/ Nevada Appeal News ServiceA project to widen the intersection of the junction of highways 50 and 89 " known as the "Y" " in South Lake Tahoe is expected to begin in June and will cost the city $2.5 million. The busy intersection is seen above from north-bound Highway 89.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. ” The city is ready to start widening the “Y” intersection, even though some residents doubt the logic of the expansion.

The intersection of highways 50 and 89, the “Y” has been described as one of the most congested in the Lake Tahoe Basin and has been the subject of debate for years.

The city expects to put the $2.5 million project out to bid April 4, and construction would start June 3, said John Greenhut, public works director for the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Caltrans will cover two-thirds of the cost; the city will pay the remainder.

The project will add one “straight-through” lane for each of the four legs of the intersection. Each direction of travel will have two left-turn lanes, two straight-through lanes and a right-turn lane.

Although some had wanted a roundabout at the intersection, that idea has been rejected ” at least for the near future.

Traffic studies showed a two-lane roundabout wouldn’t improve traffic. In fact, the two-lane roundabout would result in a level of service of “F” for five of the 12 travel movements through the intersection.

Level of service is a measure of how well an intersection handles traffic. It ranges from a grade of “A,” in which traffic flows freely, to a grade of “F,” in which delays are considerable or severe.

A three-lane roundabout would improve traffic flow, according to traffic studies, but such an intersection is rare, if not nonexistent, in California ” and it is unlikely to receive Caltrans approval, Greenhut said.

The size of the roundabout also would require substantial acquisition of right-of-way, adding to the project’s cost.

With funding already approved by Caltrans for widening the intersection, the city council voted unanimously last April to move forward with the project.

Funding approved for the widening cannot simply be transferred to a roundabout project; the city would be starting all over again in competing for funding, Greenhut explained.

“If the project disappears, the funding does, too,” Greenhut said.

Even though the council decided on the project a year ago, some still are arguing against the widening.

“We will get more asphalt, an uglier entrance to our city, no provision for cyclists and a more intimidating intersection for pedestrians,” South Lake Tahoe resident Jerome Evans said in a guest column in the Tahoe Daily Tribune this month.

According to Greenhut, the project will improve traffic flow at the intersection, especially during daytime, nonpeak travel periods. He acknowledged, though, that neither road widening nor a roundabout would prevent Sunday traffic bottlenecks.

But Greenhut said the widening project also will bring other benefits: It includes new curbs, gutters and sidewalks, landscaping, better drainage and ADA and other pedestrian-safety improvements.