County to get $3 million? |

County to get $3 million?

TRUCKEE – Pedestrians and bicyclists weary of navigating Truckee’s harrowing “mousehole” may have $3 million in federal help on the way.

Widening the railroad underpass on state Route 89 south – the subject of regional planning for years – has caught the attention of Truckee’s representative in Congress, John Doolittle, and may net $3 million out of a $284 billion federal transportation bill that is currently navigating the federal legislative process.

If Doolittle’s effort to fund the project remains in the broader transportation bill, it would help move forward planning and environmental clearance that has been stalled by a lack of financing.

“The problem right now is that there is not funding to start the next phase of design and environmental review,” said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.

The narrow tunnel is heavily used by pedestrians headed to the Crossroads shopping center and bicyclists heading up and down state Route 89.

“I see people going through here at 50 (mph),” said Jay Sommer, who often walks and bikes through the tunnel. “It’s nasty. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

Sommer said the combination of vehicle speed and the narrowness of the opening is dangerous, even for vehicles.

“I ride a bike through there, and I have to wait for a clearance,” said Sommer. “It’s about as narrow as it gets.”

The town of Truckee has taken the lead on the complicated project that involves Caltrans, Union Pacific Railroad, Nevada County and, to some extent, Placer County. Widening the existing passage or building a second undercrossing is saddled with the extra challenge of completing the work while railroad traffic continues on the tracks above. Nearby Donner Creek will also put the project under added environmental review scrutiny, Wilkins said.

“Optimistically, it would be a three-year design and environmental review process,” said Wilkins, and that is if the funding becomes available. A federal allotment of $3 million would get the project to a point where it could be put out to bid, said Wilkins.

But there are two significant obstacles that the legislation must overcome before funding can be funneled into the so-called mousehole. First, the House transportation bill must retain the funding for the project when it merges with the Senate’s version in a conference committee. The mousehole project is one of nearly 1,800 earmarked projects in the house bill, said Wilkins. The bill passed by the Senate is a $319 billion form of the transportation legislation

Richard Robinson, spokesman for Doolittle, said that they hope the bill will be merged in the September conference committee and passed before Congress is adjourned in October. However, other officials have indicated the transportation compromises may only be successful following the November elections, Robinson said.

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