TAHOE/TRUCKEE - With the National Weather Service predicting more snow for the region this weekend, regional road crews - which have seen no reduction in staffing due to budgetary constraints - are ready to ensure the safety of motorists this winter season, officials said.
Caltrans is in the process of beefing up its District 3 crew to a total of 600 employees, 250 of whom are seasonal, said Rochelle Jenkins, Caltrans spokesperson, while sand houses are full and equipment ranging from plows to brining systems are ready to go.
"We prepare like we always do," she said. "Brace for the worst and hope for the least."
Last year proved to be a mild winter, with only 335 inches of snow falling over Donner Summit, said Steve Kirkpatrick, Caltrans District 3 deputy director of maintenance and traffic operations, compared to the previous year's record-setting 818 inches.
The average area snowfall for the Truckee/Tahoe region is approximately 430 inches.
"We are continuously adjusting, increasing, changing our work hours to accommodate ... the level of service and maintenance these roads up here (require)," Kirkpatrick said.
Jenkins said the department's primary focus is to keep Interstate 80 open and safe to travel on, considering more than a $1 million in commerce travels on that corridor every hour.
The cost to keep the roads clear during the winter season varies based on the weather, but Caltrans' largest expense is labor, Jenkins said.
"... California's budget, it's not the greatest. But when it comes to keeping the roads open and operations up here, we had no reduction in our staffing levels," Kirkpatrick said.
The department will also spend approximately $60 per ton this winter on a new sand product - crushed granite - to be used on the North Shore, which is between $52 to $48 more per ton than regular sand, said Stan Richens, Caltrans Sutter/Sierra Region manager.
"It's got absolutely no dirt like the regular sand," he said. "This new sand product we're getting it's absolutely clean. We're going to try it for a year and do some testing and see where we're at."
Sand - and not salt - is used in the region to improve vehicle traction on snow- and ice-covered roads within the Tahoe Basin.
"The Tahoe Basin is its own ecosystem, so we have to be very mindful of that," Jenkins said. "Lake Tahoe is a very precious resource, and we take our stewardship of that lake very seriously."
Another thing to take seriously is being prepared for winter driving conditions.
Jenkins offered the following safety tips: Drivers should travel with a full tank of gas; keep food, water and blankets in their vehicles; have good treads on their tires and appropriate chains or cables in their possession; check area weather conditions frequently; and inform someone of their traveling route.
"People must have a health respect for Mother Nature because you never know what she'll throw," Jenkins said.
According to the National Weather Service in Reno, a snow/rain mixture is predicted this weekend, with snow appearing in elevations of 6,000 feet and higher Friday. A second system will push a cold front into the area Sunday, bringing the potential for "moderate to heavy snow," according to the forecast for Truckee on www.noaa.gov.
For up-to-date travel information through Caltrans, visit quickmap.dot.ca.gov.