Caltrans plow funds reduced |

Caltrans plow funds reduced

Michael Schneider

Feeling budget constraints, the California Department of Transportation will be able to use just $200,000 this winter to remove snow from the median of U.S. Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe.

This season Caltrans has completed only one snow haul. That was Dec. 5 when the department moved 386 loads of snow from the highway. The haul, considered light by Caltrans District 3 standards, used 19 trucks at a cost of $10,000.

Caltrans, in trying to stay within the confines of its snow-removal budget, has developed a criteria for median snow removal.

Pat Miller, department spokeswoman, said there is no set formula for service.

“There are no hard and fast conditions,” Miller said. “A lot of it depends on the weather.

“We just look at the conditions.”

Miller also said there is no set height or volume for removal.

Even when there is no snow haul, snow is removed from portions of the highway’s center lane where left-turn lanes exist, according to Miller. She said the center lane is also plowed where there are entrances to shopping centers or strip malls, but not for individual private businesses.

The remaining $190,000 can be used later in winter, Caltrans developed new snow removal practices.

These involve spreading the snow into the inside lanes of the highway from the center lane to allow the snow to melt by the action of vehicles driving over it.

In a Dec. 18, 1998 letter from District 3 Director Irene T. Itamura, the director of the Sierra Nevada region outlined the following guidelines for snow removal:

When a holiday or high-traffic weekend follows a major storm, which has resulted in a substantial berm in the center of the roadway, Caltrans will remove it as soon as possible with hired trucks.

When there is a small berm with sunshine and warm temperatures and heavy traffic volumes are not predicted, Caltrans will spread the snow 2 to 4 inches deep in the inside lane only. The outside slow lane will be kept free of snow. This “slushing” will allow the snow to melt without the high cost of hauling.

Caltrans will not slush when low temperatures could cause icing on the highway.

Miller said, should there be an abundance of snow with no heavy traffic expected, snow removal from the center lane will depend on how much snow and what the forecast says.

Miller was unable to say how much a heavy haul from a serious snowstorm would cost, only saying it would be more than a light haul.

While it’s common to have a snowstorm at lake level anytime from October to June, the heaviest snow months requiring the most snow removal are late January through early March.

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