Caltrans, agency reach a compromise in debate over looks vs. strength
Caltrans has agreed to replace a shiny guardrail it installed on a North Shore highway earlier this fall with an equally strong but duller, acid-washed one.
The move is part of a compromise struck Monday between Caltrans and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that factors in the appearance of the guardrail while allowing Caltrans to maintain its safety standard.
In turn, transportation officials have agreed to conduct a study to find a road barrier that blends better with Lake Tahoe’s natural environment.
“I think the outcome is one that protects aesthetics of the lake at the same time it protects the safety for the traveling public,” said Jody Jones, district director for Caltrans.
The study could last up to three years and cost $750,000. The large budget might be needed to fund crash tests for new types of guardrail, Jones said.
But if Caltrans and the TRPA agree on a viable alternative sooner, the study would be shut down and not cost as much.
“One thing we’d like to explore through the research project is whether you can color galvanized steel,” Jones said. “The color would be within the steel itself, not painted.”
Guardrails became an issue in October when Caltrans ignored a permit condition imposed by the TRPA. It required the transportation agency to install “rust rail” along Highway 267, which connects Kings Beach and Truckee. “Rust rail” was to be installed because the TRPA said its orange-brown color better blends with the environment.
Caltrans installed galvanized guardrail, refusing to put in “rust rail” because the safety barrier requires more maintenance and is not as strong as the galvanized rail. The Nevada Department of Transportation has expressed similar safety concerns about “rust rail.”
The issue went unresolved until last month when it became more urgent after the TRPA Governing Board gave its attorneys authority to sue Caltrans over the matter.
Negotiations continued with the hope the issue could be resolved before Wednesday when the Governing Board was scheduled to hold an appeal hearing regarding the Caltrans permit. That appeal hearing has been canceled.
“We’re not married to one solution. We just wanted to recognize that Lake Tahoe is a special place,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director. “From the beginning, our goal was to resolve the matter with Caltrans. We’re pleased we were able to come to a collaborative solution for Lake Tahoe.”
Replacing the 400 feet of shiny galvanized guardrail installed by Caltrans on Highway 267 will not cost the transportation department a lot of money, Jones said.
The guardrail that’s removed from the highway will be installed elsewhere in the district, and the acid-wash process to produce a duller guard rail does not cost much more than producing a normal guardrail, Jones said.
The dulled guardrail will be installed, weather permitting, after Caltrans receives its order from the factory, which could take two to four weeks.
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org