More than 20 miles of highway construction at Lake Tahoe will have motorists struggling to get around this summer. But by reducing stormwater pollution, it should mean water quality improvements for the clear mountain lake.
Caltrans has six projects in the basin. Work on most of them starts May 1.
“All of these are water quality improvement projects, all coming out of our stormwater funds,” said Steve Nelson, a Caltrans spokesman. “It all ties back to the Environmental Improvement Program, a multiagency program to improve the lake.”
The initiative asks Caltrans and Nevada Department of Transportation to improve stormwater capture and treatment along the basin’s highways. Fine sediment washing into Lake Tahoe from roadways and urban areas reduces the lake’s clarity. The highway projects install curbs and gutters and other mechanisms to trap stormwater as well as a variety of filtration systems to remove sediment before the runoff is discharged.
“The road network is one of the most critical for stormwater, but completing it is pretty far ahead of where the private property owners are in the basin,” said Jeff Cowen, spokesman for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “We’ve focused hard on the road network for a while, but need to focus on private properties and county roads and city roads as well. It’s all happening hand in hand.”
Nelson said Caltrans is on track to finish retrofitting all 85 miles of highway on its side of the Lake Tahoe Basin by 2019 at a total cost of about $530 million.
“We know it’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic, but we’re trying to remind folks to think of the greater purpose of what we’re doing. It’s not always apparent, but there will be improvements to the lake in addition to improvements to the highways.”
Drivers can expect traffic delays around the lake through October.
Five miles of roadwork on U.S. 50 from Johnson Pass Road to Incline Road in Meyers starts on May 1, with 10 minute delays expected as crews upgrade stormwater facilities.
Another two miles of roadwork on U.S. 50 from South Lake Tahoe Airport to the intersection of U.S. 50 and Highway 89 also starts May 1. The $12.7 million project widens the road’s shoulders, repaves the road, installs curbs, gutters and sidewalks and ties in with work done last summer.
In July, Caltrans plans to award a contract for five miles of paving and stormwater improvements on Highway 89 from U.S. 50 to Cascade Road.
“We’re thinking they might do a bit of preliminary work in the fall and finish in 2015,” Nelson said about the estimated $24 million project.
A string of projects are planned for Tahoe’s West Shore.
Work resumes on paving and stormwater drainage improvements for about seven miles of Highway 89 from Eagle Falls to Meeks Bay. Work started last year and the $16 million project is slated to be finished in 2015.
Work also continues on Highway 89 between Tahoma and Tahoe City. The nine-mile, $41 million project has three phases. The first focuses on three miles between Tahoma and Homewood, with later phases planned for 2015 and 2016. The project includes paving and stormwater upgrades as well as widening and realignment of the roadway. Utility relocations on that stretch of highway already have been testing drivers’ patience.
“To folks out there it feels like it’s been going on forever. It’s been a bit of a strain for them,” Nelson said. “It’s quite a process over there and we still have three years to go.”
On Highway 89 north of Tahoe City, crews will work on five miles of drainage improvements. The $4 million project will cause delays up to 20 minutes.
“We did a project out there a couple years ago and noticed some areas not draining, so we’re going in and making some changes,” Nelson said.
On the North Shore, an ongoing $44 million project led by Placer County to remake one mile of Highway 28 corridor in Kings Beach, as well as surrounding neighborhood roads, will challenge drivers with delays. The project features stormwater drainage, pedestrian, traffic calming and scenic improvements.
“They’re trying to get the highway work finished this year, but would have to come in and finish (the project) in 2015,” Nelson said.
Nevada Department of Transportation’s biggest road project in the basin this summer is a $15 million reconstruction of Kingsbury Grade from U.S. 50 to the summit. The road will be closed at the summit from May 1 to the Memorial Day weekend with around the clock construction and closed again at the summit in September after the Labor Day weekend. The rest of the summer will involve night work with single lane closures.
“One reason for that closure is that really helps us condense the construction schedule down to a year and a half, so we’re not up there for two or three years,” said Meg Ragonese, an NDOT spokeswoman.
About $3 million of the Kingsbury Grade project is for stormwater drainage and treatment improvements.
“So that will really help improve water quality as well,” Ragonese said.
Other Environmental Improvement Program roadwork that is proposed but not yet funded on the basin’s Nevada side includes a segment of U.S. 50 from Cave Rock to Spooner Summit and a segment of Highway 28 from Chimney Beach to Sand Harbor.
“There’s no funding or schedule set for those, but that’s about $13 million of projects coming up in future years,” Ragonese said.
Outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin, NDOT wants to start working this summer on a two-year, $14 million project to improve 16 miles of the Mount Rose Highway from the summit down to the base near Galena, Nev. That project still requires transportation commission approval, Ragonese said.