Tahoe bike path carries high construction cost

CARSON CITY — Visitors to Lake Tahoe’s east shore could soon have a new bike path linking upscale Incline Village to Nevada’s Sand Harbor State Park, but the price tag might induce sticker shock: $12.5 million for the 3-mile project.

Yes, that is more than $4 million a mile in taxpayer dollars for a 10-foot-wide bike path traveling just about 16,000 feet along the picturesque mountain lake.

Not to mention another $7 million to $9 million that the Nevada Transportation Department plans to spend in state gas taxes in conjunction with the project on related environmental and safety needs.

Another $750,000 in private donations has also been raised for the path.

The stretch of shoreline where the path will be built is difficult terrain, and the stretch of state Route 28 that will be bypassed is narrow and not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists, even though both can be found on the edges of the road, especially in the summer months.

It will also require construction of an underpass beneath the highway where the trail goes from the east side of the road to the west side. The feature will link it with the Flume Trail, a spectacular mountain bike ride high above the lake.

But the cost of the project gets one’s attention.

According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, funded by the Federal Highway Administration and housed within the UNC Highway Safety Research Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the cost of a mile of bike path varies widely but typically ranges from $5,000 to $535,000 per mile, with an average cost around $130,000.

That makes the Incline project the gold standard for bike paths.

The question isn’t whether the bike path is a great project, but whether it is the best use of the money. The state Transportation Department announced this month that Nevada’s pedestrian fatalities have reached epidemic levels only months into 2016.

As of Feb. 26, preliminary records showed 19 pedestrian fatalities on Nevada roadways, a 46 percent increase versus this time last year. Pedestrian deaths in Nevada totaled 73 in 2015. Of those deaths, 60 occurred in Clark County.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, at a meeting of the state Transportation Board last week, brought up his concerns with pedestrian deaths, particularly in Southern Nevada.

Southern Nevada officials have frequently expressed concerns about whether the region gets an equitable amount of road funding dollars, although the Boulder City bypass and Project Neon to improve Interstate 15 at the Spaghetti Bowl have helped dispel that perception.

Bill Hoffman, Transportation Department deputy director, said Nevadans should know that the $12.5 million is earmarked federal funding for the bike path construction under the Federal Lands Access Program that is part of the Federal Highway Administration. The money could not be used for any other project, he said.

The project was initiated through the Tahoe Transportation District in its master planning process. Ultimately a path is proposed to run around the lake and link other existing sections of bike path.

The state’s share of funding, while it could be used for projects anywhere in the state, is being proposed to take advantage of the bike path work to stretch tax dollars further, he said. The safety and environmental work needs to be done and can be accomplished more effectively as part of the overall project, Hoffman said.

“It’s more than just a bike path,” he said. “There are erosion control and water quality projects. And traffic safety.

“Since this project was going out, we needed to do the water quality work and we needed to improve the safety of that corridor,” Hoffman said. “So we looked for that opportunity to jump when we could.”

A preliminary contract is expected to go before the state Transportation Board, which includes Sandoval, in May or June. If approved the contract could go to bid later this year or early next year with construction sometime in summer 2017.

The state Transportation Department was brought in on the project because of the agency’s experience working on projects around the lake, Hoffman said.

Jim Lawrence, deputy director of the Conservation & Natural Resources Department that oversees the state park system, said the road between the two points is not ideal from a safety perspective.

“The beaches between Incline Village (Hidden Beach, Memorial Point) and Sand Harbor are extremely popular — especially during the summer months,” he said in a statement. “Currently, there is inadequate, easy access or paths along the stretch of shoreline. The construction of a multiuse path that is separate from the highway will provide safe access for all types of users.”

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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