BY SHANA BERGER
Last winter, my husband had spent a snowy day working at Alpine Meadows, and then was delayed five hours getting home to the Armstrong Tract neighborhood on the west side of Truckee due to traffic backups related to I-80 westbound closure. When he finally got to the first access road to our neighborhood, Highway Street at Donner Pass Road, he found a seam in the traffic. A woman promptly moved her car and cut him off, thinking he was going to beat her in line to get on the closed highway. Stopped again, he got out of his car at 9:45 p.m. and tapped on her window.
She was going to San Francisco. He said, “Well, right now you’re parked and blocking traffic. Could you please move, so I can turn down this street and get home?”
He eventually was able to maneuver his car around all the parked vehicles blocking the western part of the roadway and get home.
This scenario happens multiple times a winter. Sometimes there are so many cars parked on Donner Pass Road that there’s only one lane of traffic serving both directions with blind entry scary! It’s frustrating and requires patience. We’ve lived in this neighborhood since January 2003 and the greater North Tahoe area over 23 years. Police once monitored the situation to keep traffic moving. We appreciated it. One lane was designated for stranded motorists awaiting I-80’s reopening. Nowadays, no one monitors it. Hence, five-hour backups to Alpine Meadows. Now, when I-80 westbound closes, hopeful drivers wait stopped at the roundabouts on Highway 89 and near the Donner Lake highway entrance. Being from out of town, trapped in a Truckee snowstorm could be confusing. They may not know they can park off the roads in vacant parking lots, like the Tri Counties Bank Plaza lot (by Sears), the Save Mart lot, the Smokey’s lot, or the school lots. When they block the roadway, how are emergency vehicles supposed to get through that mess?
Historically, the width of Donner Pass Road has been helpful in creating alternate lanes, like the middle or far right, for locals to use to get around stopped vehicles and get home. However, this summer, new islands were installed in the middle of the street made of concrete with boulders, poles, and shrubs. There have also been sidewalks installed on western Donner Pass Road. I love the idea of providing more safety to pedestrians with these islands and sidewalks. However, I foresee these new features as potentially exacerbating the traffic problems during snowstorms due to lack of wiggle room for drivers. People get frustrated and sometimes drive erratically, impulsively, or unsafely when feeling like caged beasts after being stuck in their cars for hours.
Which entity will take ownership of this issue and educate stranded motorists about appropriate places to park and await the highway reopening? The Town of Truckee, the Truckee PD, or a volunteer force? How about a sign on the western part of Donner Pass Road saying “no stopping,” especially now that there is no room for multiple makeshift lanes. There could be illuminated signage along this stretch of road displaying the estimated time of highway reopening, a reminder that traffic should keep moving, suggestions of a website offering recommendations for where to pass the time, and maybe, “Truckee appreciates your cooperation with keeping traffic moving. Good job!”
I’ve considered keeping XC skis for my husband, daughter, and myself in the car with headlamps and reflective vests. We could just join in the fun of parking on Donner Pass Road in a snowstorm, blocking traffic, and get home. Hopefully, we won’t get hit by a crazed driver losing patience and being impulsive.
Getting the Town of Truckee and the Truckee police to actually fix this problem may have to do with staffing. It may be partially addressed by better coordination with Caltrans and stopping westbound traffic in Verdi rather than Truckee. Whatever the reason is for this foreseeable issue’s persistence, we can anticipate the karmic opportunity to work on how we respond to frustration in hours of gridlock during snowstorms. I urge local agencies to take ownership of this problem, not allow the gridlock, and keep the fl ow going.
~ Shana Berger is a powder-slayer who loves yoga, skiing, mountain biking, eating kale, dancing, and her community.