$10 million grant secured for upgrade to Old Highway 40 at Donner Summit | TahoeDailyTribune.com

$10 million grant secured for upgrade to Old Highway 40 at Donner Summit

A major rockslide occurred Friday, Feb. 6, at Donner Summit on Old Highway 40, due to a heavy rain and wind storm that swept through the Sierra.
Photos courtesy George Lamson |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For the first time in roughly 50 years, a historic portion of Donner Pass Road that serves as a vital link to rock climbing, biking and hiking in the Sierra is scheduled for a major overhaul.

Nevada County Public Works principal civil engineer Joshua Pack said he had been waiting to hear about a $6.6 million grant application under California’s Federal Lands Access Program.

On Aug. 28, officials were notified not only was the application approved, but the county was successful in obtaining $9.9 million in grant funding.

It will help improve a 6.5-mile stretch of the road at Donner Summit and winding down to Donner Lake known as Old Highway 40, from Interstate 80 to Truckee town limits, and will span both Nevada and Placer counties.

“It’s one of the biggest projects we’ve done in terms of grant dollars,” Pack said. “I’ve never received a grant of this size.”

While design work won’t likely begin until early 2016, Pack said the project would focus on improving a number of ongoing challenges on Old 40.

Improvements include mitigating rock and landscape degradation associated with winter weather, which currently requires frequent maintenance, Pack said. The plan would also focus on safety, including bicycle lanes and widened shoulders.

The road’s proximity to and association with many outdoor activities in the Sierra gave Nevada County officials plenty of reason to apply for the grant, Pack said.

The grant is expected to provide funding for the majority of the construction, although it came with the contingency that Nevada County provide $300,000 of its own funding.

Since some of the construction will spill into Placer County, officials from both counties are working to raise as much as $450,000 to cover funding gaps.

Placer County officials would likely provide the additional $150,000 to match, but that decision is awaiting county board approval, Pack said.

Construction is tentatively planned to begin in 2019, although Pack said it’s possible that timeline could be advanced should preliminary work meet little hindrance.

Nevada County officials will be required to explore potential environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as work with any private landowners whose land may be impacted by construction.

Those issues have yet to be explored, Pack said, and given the road’s age, there may be some surprise discoveries as preliminary work begins.

“We’re going to be very cautious of the private property impact,” Pack said. “You just don’t know until you actually go into it.”

Originally built to facilitate pioneer emigrants seeking passage over the Sierra Nevada mountain range in 1844, the portion of road that would later become Donner Pass has been called many names.

The pass has been used as the California Trail, First Transcontinental Railroad, Lincoln Highway (later renamed U.S. Route 40) and finally Donner Pass Road.

Its winding path includes the famed Rainbow Bridge, and it’s flanked by some of the West’s best rock climbing elements. It also serves as the main highway to the Sugar Bowl and Soda Springs ski resorts

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