Dangerous Highway 50 – residents vs. NDOT | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dangerous Highway 50 – residents vs. NDOT

Sarah Gonser

Residents living along the tight curves on the Nevada side of U.S. Highway 50 tell some grim tales of carnage. They also tell of prolonged and fruitless efforts to bring about safer roadways.

“Is the value of life so insignificant that (Nevada Department of Transportation) will wait until another person dies to finally take action?” asked Janet Leader, Associate Director of the Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center, after Tuesday’s crash at the Conference Center turnoff which injured six people. “What will it take until they finally take notice?”

Leader said that although she counts on average four to six accidents at the curve per year, she regularly hears screeching tires from her office facing the highway. Leader and her husband have been corresponding with NDOT for years to get a turn lane. In 1964, Leader said an exchange of land occurred between the Conference Grounds and NDOT with the agreement that the land be used for a turn lane. But NDOT files reflect no such agreement.

“We don’t show any records that the easement was provided specifically for a turn lane,” said Frank Csiga, NDOT principal road design engineer. “My understanding is that it was for slope and drainage maintenance.”

And so, although Leader has documentation of the land deed, the most NDOT has been able to do is install flashing lights, post a 30-miles-per-hour speed limit and yellow arrow turn signs. The investment to build a turn lane, said Csiga, is just not financially viable for NDOT.

“We review all accident locations throughout each county on an annual basis and come up with a priority list according to cost ratio,” he said. “The Conference Grounds turn has been reviewed several times. We estimate a turn lane would cost $1.6 million – it works out to be a very low benefit versus cost ratio for us.”

Further down the road at Lakeridge Curve, known to locals as Deadman’s Point, the accident history is even more gruesome – thus the macabre name. Just last April, a man died in a head-on collision. One resident’s fight to make the curve safer has lasted 10 years.

“We were told by NDOT that unless we had seven people die at the curve in one year, they wouldn’t put up a sign,” said Gerda Canova, whose office fronts Deadman’s Point. “It was like we had to pray for another death to get a road sign.”

Canova said yellow warning signs with blinking lights were installed only after she wrote a letter to former Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan asking for help. Since then, she claims the death toll has decreased from six to about three deaths a year.

Although neither Leader’s nor Canova’s accident estimates match Nevada Highway Patrol and NDOT figures, law enforcement agents don’t dispute the danger of the curves.

At Tuesday’s head-on collision at the Conference Grounds, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District’s Battalion Chief Rick Nicholson said about six to 10 accidents happened at that turn every year. Nicholson suggested that drivers not even attempt using the fast lane around the curve.

“Generally the cause of these accidents is speed and alcohol – there’s a lot of alcohol available in Stateline,” said Sgt. Lance Modispacher, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. “Drivers just get in there too fast, they’re busy looking at the lake and the nice houses, and the curve just sneaks up on them and they can’t maneuver it.”

Canova said she has given up on the fight. Leader, however, plans to pursue the matter.

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