U.S. 50 redevelopment
A sweeping do-over of South Lake Tahoe’s downtown core has been approved by land-use regulators.
Last month, the governing board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency unanimously approved the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, an ambitious proposal to reroute highway traffic and improve the tourist experience at the area’s downtown center.
The project has been pursued in one form or another since 1985, undergoing two different environmental review cycles before stalling only to ultimately start over. TRPA lastly re-initiated the project in 2008, with the Tahoe Transportation District assuming the role of lead sponsor the following year.
“It would get started, but it would hit roadblocks along the way,” TRPA senior planner Shannon Friedman said of earlier efforts.
What had once been envisioned as merely a “loop road” around the area’s casino core transformed into a much larger revitalization plan, building on other successful redevelopment—including Heavenly Village and a mountain gondola—already completed in the area, Friedman said.
“The U.S. 50 project is much more than a road realignment,” said Carl Hasty, director of the Tahoe Transportation District.
The approved project will realign about one mile of U.S. 50, sending the highway from the area of its current intersection with Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe to run behind Heavenly Village and the Stateline casino core, spilling out at the current intersection of Highway 50 and Lake Parkway in Stateline.
The former five-lane highway directly in front of Heavenly Village and the casinos will be converted into a two-lane main street with expanded sidewalks and bicycle lanes, enhanced transit services and street-side landscaping improvements. A pedestrian bridge will be built, connecting the casino core to the recently completed Van Sickle Bi-State park to the east.
“It’s transforming the existing highway into a main street, so it’s more bikeable and walkable, safer and more inviting for people to enjoy,” said Friedman. “It will become a real tourist hub.”
There are homes that stand in the way of the new highway route. Some 76 homes or other aging housing units will have to be razed to make way, a fact that generated substantial controversy.
To address concerns, the transportation district has agreed to build 109 new affordable housing units, all within a quarter-mile—walking distance—of the project area. The new units will be served by transit and are required to remain affordable for residents through permanent deed restrictions. The result will be a net gain in housing, Friedman said.
The project will also address an ongoing problem that has many local motorists bypassing Highway 50 and driving through residential streets in the Rocky Point neighborhood east of the casino core.
Detailed plans must still be prepared regarding the replacement housing, the future state of Rocky Point and management of the Main Street component.
The replacement housing will be the first construction completed, probably in two or three years, Friedmen said. Completion of the overall project, at an estimated cost of about $100 million, is likely five to 10 years away.