Caltrans finishes Highway 89 project |

Caltrans finishes Highway 89 project

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Caltrans completed a project on Highway 89 that will safeguard water quality in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, the agency announced in a statement Tuesday. “Caltrans is strongly committed to protecting California’s streams, rivers, lakes, and beaches,” said acting Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty. “Water quality is an essential concern during all Caltrans construction projects.” The project will direct roadway water runoff to treatment collection facilities, helping preserve Lake Tahoe’s water quality. The project also widened highway shoulders, constructed curbs and gutters, and repaired and constructed new drainage facilities between the Alpine County line and Highway 50. The $17 million project received $11 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).

Guest View: South ‘Y’ intersection project is going to hurt more than help

This month, the city of South Lake Tahoe plans to put out to bid a project it calls “South ‘Y’ Intersection Improvements.” The project plans call for adding a traffic lane through the intersection in each direction. That is, there are to be six lanes plus a bypass lane for Highway 50 coming from the south, six lanes plus a bypass lane for Highway 50 coming from the east, seven lanes for Highway 89 coming from the north, and seven lanes for Lake Tahoe Boulevard coming from the west. There also is to be some planting on the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection. The project is expected to cost upward of $2.4 million in Caltrans and federal funds. What will we get for this? We will get more asphalt, an uglier entrance to our city, no provision for cyclists and a more-intimidating intersection for pedestrians. Wasted fuel and air pollution from idling vehicles waiting to get through the intersection at all hours will continue. And we will get little or no improvement in traffic flow. Inbound traffic will continue to back up behind the lights at Third Street and Tahoe Keys Boulevard. Outbound traffic on Sundays and holidays will continue to back up through the intersection as it is constricted to one lane from H Street to Echo Summit. It must be noted, also, that this brilliant project is the same one that was sidelined several years ago and is based upon a 1996 traffic count and projections that have proven to be wildly inaccurate. Caltrans’ own peak-period traffic counts to the south and the east of the intersection show no increase in traffic that would justify this project. This may be why neither Caltrans nor the city has tried to make a case for the project since 1997. Since then, studies by a respected Tahoe engineering firm and by the Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team favored a very different proposal for the intersection (a roundabout), as does the proposed Community Enhancement Program project for the former Mikasa site now being studied by TRPA. So why is the city planning to go ahead with this wasteful project now? Whatever happened to the Community Plan Team’s vision of “an unmatched opportunity to remake the South ‘Y’ intersection into a hub of commercial, recreational and pedestrian activity”? Your guess is as good as mine. The city claims that its hands are tied, as Caltrans has indicated that this is the only project it will fund at the “Y” intersection. So it appears that for South Lake Tahoe, whatever Caltrans wants, Caltrans gets. Just now, the city appears to be allowing Caltrans to go ahead with several other Highway 50 projects that should, but do not, include bicycle trails that our community wants and needs. And here, accepting Caltrans’ dictates, it is preparing to go ahead with a project of little or no demonstrable benefit and substantial detriment to our city. For all their talk about the importance of making the Tahoe Valley area more attractive and more economically vibrant, city council members appear unwilling to stand up to Caltrans in the interest of their constituents. So Caltrans will continue to have its way with us – unless the council wakes up and puts a stop to this foolish project. Remember when Caltrans’ predecessor wanted to build a bridge across Emerald Bay? – Jerome Evans is a South Lake Tahoe resident who has served as a member of the Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team and a member of the Pathway 2007 Forum.

South Lake Tahoe sign project gains Caltrans approval

Caltrans has approved an encroachment permit for a wayfinding project in South Lake Tahoe, according to a statement from the city. The project includes the installation of new or replacement signs along U.S. Highway 50, Emerald Bay Road and Pioneer Trail that direct people to sports fields, visitor’s centers, ski resorts, parks and recreation facilities, shopping, dining, beaches, parking and the Lake Tahoe Historic Society Museum. The goal of the project is to “reduce sign clutter through the use of consistent colors, symbols, and content providing travelers clear information to locate their destination of choice,” according to the statement. The project is a collaboration between South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County, the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce and Caltrans. The city paid $66,000 and the county paid $42,500 to design, fabricate, construct and install the signs. The signs are scheduled for installation before the 2011 Amgen Tour of California in May.

Caltrans launches website for Highway 50 closure

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Caltrans has launched to inform visitors of the Highway 50 closure slated to begin as early as April 15 and alternate routes to South Lake Tahoe. The website will also provide local businesses with a resource to encourage travelers to come to Tahoe, despite the closure, by allowing them to post specials or discounts. “This is a very big project,” said Deanna Shoopman, a spokeswoman for CalTrans. “We’re closing Highway 50 for two weeks. We have to make sure the traveling public is aware.” The website features maps and information about alternate routes, a section for project updates and a section for South Lake Tahoe businesses and events. As the project nears, CalTrans will advertise information through radio, television, text message, newspaper and electronic billboards. Two official detours have been announced. Highway 50 motorists en route to South Lake Tahoe will be rerouted to Highway 16 out of Sacramento, Calif. to Highway 49 and then onto Highways 88 and 89. Travelers closer to Placerville, Calif. will be directed onto Highway 49 which will lead them to Highway 88. Highway 50 and businesses along it will remain open up to the point of closure. Travelers should plan for an extra hour of travel time to Tahoe, according to a statement released by CalTrans. Construction will include new guardrails and a 3-foot-high cement barrier in place of the crumbling 18-inch-tall rock and sandbag roadside wall, which was built in the 1930s. A stabilizing slab will be placed under the roadway and masonry along the support wall will be upgraded. CalTrans will provide monetary incentives for the contractor to end the closure early and fines for extending it. One lane of the Highway 50 stretch will remain closed for up to six weeks after the full closure. CalTrans chose April 15 as a start date because they believed it would have the least impact on tourism and because the window does not coincide with fire season, Shoopman said. Highway 50 will be open for Memorial Day weekend. The closure will have an economic impact on South Shore businesses, said Betty “B” Gorman, president of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Gorman met with California state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, Caltrans and C.C. Myers Inc., the company that has been awarded the contract for the $3 million project, to urge that the dates of the closure avoid Easter weekend, April 23-24. “The unfortunate challenge here is that the business community asked for this project to be done in late April and CalTrans put this contract out for April 15,” Gorman said. The ideal situation would be for the closure to begin April 25 and be finished within 10 days, she said. The exact dates of the closure are weather dependent. C.C. Myers Inc. needs 10-14 days of fair weather forecasted before they can close the highway. CalTrans cannot modify the contract once it’s been awarded. Beth Ruyak, a spokeswoman for C.C. Myers, would not comment on whether or not they would move the start date of construction back to align with business interests in the basin. C.C. Myers will work in partnership with CalTrans to decide when to start, she added. The construction will begin at the soonest possible date after April 15, according to CalTrans. The chamber is focused on how businesses can take advantage of the spotlight that’s being put on the closure, Gorman said. “We want people to understand there’s a way to capitalize on the publicity and utilize this in a positive light,” she said. Businesses that want to post on can contact the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Caltrans highlights upcoming road improvements

A joint Department of Transportation and Southwest Gas public workshop on upcoming Highway 50 construction work saw low attendance Thursday night at South Lake Tahoe's city council chambers. Out of a dozen people, only three were residents, councilwoman JoAnn Conner. The rest were Caltrans and Southwest Gas employees. Caltrans will begin construction on a $57 million road improvement and erosion control project on Highway 50 from the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe to Trout Creek Bridge. The project includes widening the shoulders to six feet on each side, as well as bus pullouts, curb and gutter reconstruction and upgrading traffic signals at Third Street, Rubicon Trail/O'Malley Drive, and Tahoe Keys and Sierra boulevards. A new signal will be installed at Lodi Avenue, a dedicated right-turn lane at Tahoe Keys Boulevard and a left-turn lane at Sierra Boulevard. Tarek Tabshouri, the Caltrans engineer presenting, said the project will include both sides of the road. The overall project is expected to last two seasons, through spring 2017. Construction time during the off peak-season, between May 1 and Memorial Day weekend and from Labor Day to Oct. 15, will occur around the clock from Sunday night to Friday morning, with one traffic lane to remain open. Peak season, or Memorial day to Labor Day, work will only occur during the night, with all lanes open during non-work window, weekends and holidays. The construction work will likely impact businesses along the route during peak season construction. Steve Nelson, Caltrans Tahoe Basin's outreach coordinator, said communication will be an important part. "We have plans for door-to-door outreach with businesses," Nelson said. In addition Caltrans has set up a website,, for the public to monitor road projects around the Lake Tahoe area. Nelson emphasized the project will protect the lake's quality and improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. "So many people can't safely access the bicycle paths because the shoulders are narrow," Nelson said. "This will help with that safety." Connie Hinton, owner of Connie's Clothesline Thrift Store on Emerald Bay Road, near where the construction will occur, went to have some of her questions answered. "My questions are pending answers from (Caltrans) higher management," Hinton said. "But I have some definite concerns." Southwest Gas contractors plans to relocate some of its gas lines on Highway 50 from the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe to Al Tahoe Boulevard. Part of the project near Al Tahoe Boulevard will include removing a section of sidewalk to College Way. Contractors will later replace it with new, American with Disability Act-compliant sidewalks. The project will be done in advance of a future Caltrans project. Once the final construction permits are secure, Southwest expects to begin in June.

Traffic delays, road closures possible under future Hwy 50 bridge project

A Caltrans project planned for the near future could result in major delays for motorists driving to and from South Lake Tahoe. The Echo Summit Bridge Replacement/Rehabilitation Project proposes to replace or rehabilitate the old Echo Summit bridge on Highway 50, located about seven miles west of South Lake Tahoe. The good news for motorists is they have time to plan for it — construction isn't expected to start on the project until 2019. However, Caltrans has already begun spreading the word. A public meeting on the project is scheduled Feb. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe. "We're very early in project development," said Steve Nelson, Tahoe Basin outreach coordinator for Caltrans, "but we want to engage the public now and gather their feedback in helping us select a preferred alternative." Age, weather and use have created several deficiencies on the 76-year-old, 24-foot-wide bridge, including severe cracking and wear on portions of the concrete and extensive rust on the structure's reinforcing steel, according to Caltrans. As a fix, Caltrans is looking at three major options for addressing the problem. Two of them propose replacing the bridge altogether with either a 26-foot-wide or 30.75-foot-wide bridge, but another scenario involves rehabilitating the structure already in place. Of course, Caltrans also has the option of doing nothing. But that doesn't sound likely. Traffic delays are expected in every scenario that requires work to be done, but they vary in length depending on the option chosen. Under the first alternative, which would replace the structure with a 26-foot-wide bridge, a full road closure is being proposed that would last 20 to 90 days depending on if work is completed in one construction season or two. An additional 10 to 70 days of one-way traffic control is also expected, bringing the total estimated length for construction between 100 to 150 days in that scenario. A 20 to 50 day road closure is also anticipated under project alternative three, which proposes to rehabilitate the bridge. Construction under that option would take a total of 150 to 180 days to complete — or two construction seasons — with 90 to 120 of those days under one-way traffic control. Alternative two, which would replace the existing bridge with a 30.75-foot-wide bridge, is the only scenario in which no road closure is necessary. That option is anticipated to take 160 to 230 days to complete, depending on the length of work shifts. But either way, work would take two construction seasons in that alternative. Caltrans estimates the first two alternatives would cost about $5.2 million, while the bridge rehabilitation would cost a little more — $6.1 million. The project was first identified in 2012 and is now in the environmental planning stage. Preparation of design documents is expected to begin in July 2016, followed by the awarding of a construction contract in 2018. The public will have a chance to provide comments on the project at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Trailhead access could be blocked

TRUCKEE – The flat space at the mouth of Negro Canyon, which for years has served as an informal parking lot for winter recreationists, may soon become a hub of Caltrans winter operations. Caltrans has proposed a salt-and-sand shed for the land at the Donner Lake interchange on Interstate 80 to replace their aging facility on Donner Summit at the Castle Peak exit. The fact that parking would be banned on Caltrans land purchased for the project, however, has local residents who have hiked, skied and snowmobiled in the canyon for years upset that the plan may block the popular trailhead. Construction of the salt-and- sand facility, which will be used for Interstate 80 winter operations, is scheduled for 2007. “Once the (facility) is built up it will be pretty much a secure facility and there will not be parking allowed,” said Jan Mendoza, a Caltrans spokeswoman. Wayne Fischer, president of the North Tahoe Snow Travelers, has written letters of protest to Caltrans because the project, he said, will not only block off Negro Canyon, but also lead to overcrowding at other snowmobiling spots. “If Caltrans were to close this off to snowmobile launching, it would put pressure on other areas,” said Fischer. The impact on recreational activities is discussed briefly in Caltrans’ environmental document for the project. The conclusion is that it will have no effect on recreation, since the canyon is not designated a recreation area, and there is no formal parking at the site. “They are not public lands, so if people have been going through those areas … they are going through private property,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Shelly Chernicki. While land at the bottom of the canyon is private, people hike or ski to adjoining Forest Service land from near the highway offramp. Perry Norris, the executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, whose organization negotiated an option to purchase 280 acres in the canyon because of its value for recreation and wildlife habitat, said the trailhead is one of the most heavily used hiking spots in the area. The construction of a Caltrans building in the canyon will likely spell the end of easy access to the canyon, he said. “Either they are going to eliminate the recreational use in the canyon, or you are going to create sheer chaos,” said Norris. The land trust, which attempts to stay out of controversial land use decisions, wrote Caltrans to criticize the plan. John Eaton, president of Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, said that if parking is blocked at the mouth of the canyon, people may hunt for other places to park, which could become a problem. “The area proposed for the facility is extensively used for parking by recreational users of the area year round, and by construction and maintenance crews for the Donner Rim Trail all summer,” wrote Eaton in a letter to Caltrans. “If the Department acquires the area and forbids parking, these users will have to park elsewhere with unknown, but probably undesirable, environmental consequences.” Aside from the project’s impact on recreation, Donner Lake residents are worried the salt-and-sand shed may increase runoff and hurt the water quality in neighboring Gregory Creek. Caltrans said that their diversion ditches and other construction will assure that the facility protects the neighboring waterways. Caltrans closed the public comment period on the project on April 15. They are now responding to the letters they have received on the project, which Mendoza said were numerous. The state agency will either revise the environmental document and recirculate it for comments, or finalize the report and begin acquiring the land and funding it needs for the project. The salt-and-sand shed on Donner Summit, which will be replaced by this new facility, is slated to be dismantled. That process will require its own environmental review.

Road work around town causing minor backups

Expect delays caused by a construction project on Highway 50 just west of Lake Tahoe Airport to last until June 15. Traffic will be limited to one-way Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 6 a.m. to noon on Friday, to accommodate a $1.4 million project under contract to Caltrans. The work involves the installation of drainage pipes under the highway and construction of storm water retaining basins close to the road. The project is funded by the Environmental Improvement Program, a $908 million initiative designed to protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe. “It’s about a 10-minute delay,” said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Stewart. “I went through it twice … and didn’t get stopped either way, so it’s pretty minimal.” How well the system collects and treats storm water runoff will determine what infrastructure improvements Caltrans will make along its other roads at Lake Tahoe Basin. “This is a test area,” said Bruce Roberts, project manager and senior transportation engineer at Caltrans. “It’s a filtering system experiment. We’ll test all the filters and see which one is more effective.” The project area includes nearly one mile of Highway 50 between Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Airport. The project will also widen the shoulder of the highway where necessary and reconstruct entrances to several businesses and Jewell Road, said Mark Dinger, Caltrans spokesman. Daytime construction on the highway should be completed by mid-June, before the peak summer traffic. Remaining road work will go on at night with the entire project, including the installation of the storm water retention basin, finished in September. The basins will be landscaped by a crew from the California Conservation Corps. In other news: n Caltrans will resume a paving project next week on Highway 50 that involves a special layer of material called Novachip, designed to protect against cold weather conditions. Expect one-way traffic from Riverton to Strawberry, Dinger said. n Road construction on the lower loop of Lake Parkway that began two weeks ago will be completed June 27. The $1.3 million project will limit traffic to one-way in the daytime except on Fridays when work will shut down by 3 p.m., said Bob Nunes, Douglas County director of community development. — Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

Caltrans has strategy to clean runoff

It’s expensive, but it could work. Engineers this week are putting layers of tiny white chips along Highway 50 near the airport. The placement of the chips, a compound called alumina, is part of a Caltrans test project to clean nutrients from storm water before it ends up, as all water does in the Lake Tahoe Basin, in the lake. Alumina is a combination of aluminum and oxygen. It is used to remove arsenic from drinking water. This project marks the first time the substance, which costs about $2,000 per ton, has been used to treat storm water. The goal is to clean nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen from the water so they don’t cause algae to grow in Tahoe. “It’s our baby,” said Glenn Moeller, research engineer at CSU Sacramento’s Office of Water Programs, who said 42,000 pounds of the alumina were purchased for the project. “We’ve done it on a small scale and seen reduction in nutrient concentrations, but there’s a difference between the lab and the real world.” Engineers chose to use alumina for the Caltrans storm water test project after two years studying what would work best. The test project aims to determine how alumina performs on a large scale and how long the chemical will remain effective. If it works well, it could be used for Caltrans storm water projects throughout the basin. “This is state-of-the art. We want to see if there are any surprises,” said Steven Austrheim-Smith, senior transportation engineer in Caltrans storm water division. “Like if it freezes solid on us. It may or may not.” The alumina was heated to 1,000 degrees before it was spread a foot deep in two spots along the highway. The heat expands the chips so they become porous and have room to absorb murky storm water. Because alumina costs five times more than sand, which had been used to treat storm water, the engineers considered using expanded shale. “It works and it’s a lot cheaper, but it leaves the pH (of the storm water) too high,” said Dipen Patel, a research engineer at Sac State. “We’d have to do some sort of pH treatment if we used that.” Caltrans began installing its nearly milelong storm water test project in May. The $1.5 million project could be wrapped up as early as Friday, said Mark Dinger, Caltrans spokesman. Similar pilot projects are being done throughout the state, though not as advanced as the one at Tahoe, to determine how to best treat storm water. A comprehensive report is expected to be delivered by the agency in the next three months. The cost of the alumina was not included in the overall price of the Caltrans test project along Highway 50. Funds to pay for the chemical came from a pool of $600 million set aside by voters to fund storm water treatment projects from 2002 to 2008, Austrheim-Smith said. – Gregory Crofton can be reached by e-mail at

Caltrans issues update on 2017 South Lake Tahoe project

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Caltrans on Monday, Dec. 7, addressed some concerns that city of South Lake Tahoe staff and council members had regarding improvements on Highway 50 from the "Y" to Trout Creek Bridge. Among those concerns, according to city manager Nancy Kerry, were safety and traffic delays. "This project this summer caused so much disruption," Kerry said at Monday's meeting. Subcontractors for Southwest Gas Company relocated most of its gas lines during the summer in advance of a 2017 Caltrans project to improve Highway 50 from the "Y" to Trout Creek Bridge. The work resulted in planned traffic delays. Kerry added that the city would like to see as little daytime construction as possible. The upcoming $56.7 million project will take three seasons to build, according to Caltrans project manager Clark Peri. That includes repaving, widening the shoulders to accommodate bicyclists, installing new traffic signals, enhancing pedestrian safety and improving storm drain capacity. Street lighting won't be included in the project and may be addressed in the future. Peri added that daytime construction is essential to the project's targeted completion in 2019. "The reason we wanted to do both daytime and nighttime work was to get it done as soon as possible," Peri said. Reducing construction hours would result in a fourth building season. Construction season in the Lake Tahoe Basin runs from late spring through Oct. 15. With some exceptions, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency requires all grading projects to be finished by that date. Councilman Tom Davis expressed concerns about traffic flaggers controlling the intersections on Highway 50 during the construction over the summer. "The flaggers were completely inexperienced," Davis said. "I think they were thrown into this by the subcontractor without any proper training." He noted one experience in which he was driving through the construction zone when he pulled over to let an ambulance pass. He was promptly asked why he was doing it by one of the traffic flaggers. Davis added that he disagreed with the lack of street lights, calling it a safety concern. "That section of road is dark and unfortunately we have to rely on lights from the businesses," Davis said. "We need a complete and safe street, and lighting is a huge part of that." Councilman Austin Sass noted that people in the surrounding neighborhoods were impacted by traffic that went around the construction. "The residents in those neighborhoods felt unsafe, so I hope that goes to the top of the pile for Caltrans," Sass said. Councilwoman JoAnn Conner noted that Caltrans went to extreme lengths to minimize community impacts, especially with its project on Emerald Bay Road toward Camp Richardson. Those efforts included widening some driveways and adjusting its work hours accordingly Peri said that he was aware of some of the concerns regarding the Southwest subcontractor. However, when construction begins in 2017, the contractor hired for the project will be directly under Caltrans' authority. "Delays are going to happen and we do plan to have flaggers out there in case there are issues with traffic," Peri said. He added that Caltrans is trying to avoid implementing a traffic detour plan once it breaks ground on the project. "Part of our assumption is that locals know what roads to take around construction," Peri said. PROJECT PHASING Peri said the project will be broken into three phases. One phase will start from the "Y" intersection to Winnemucca Avenue; the second will run from Winnemucca Avenue to Sierra Boulevard; and the third from Sierra Boulevard to Trout Creek Bridge. "This would make it easier for the contractor and limit the number of disruptions to the area," he said. Most of the road work would be done during the off-peak season, or between May 1 and Memorial Day Weekend and after Labor Day through Oct. 15. Caltrans plans to conduct around-the-clock work during that time. One lane of traffic would be open each way. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, work will occur at night from Sunday through Friday morning. All lanes would be open during weekends and holidays. Peri said Caltrans plans to conduct a series of public meetings prior to construction to address concerns. For more information, visit or visit the project site at