Date pinned on Highway 50 closure
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – April 15 is the earliest possible date both lanes of U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit will be closed to fix the deteriorating rock wall, according to Caltrans.
Though the start date is dependent on the weather, Caltrans insists the full project will be finished by June 27, including the two weeks of full closure. A signed detour will be provided.
“This is a safety project that must be done to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” said Deanna Shoopman, Caltrans spokeswoman.
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. A contract for the $3-million project has not yet been awarded.
Ten days of fair weather before the closure start date are needed for construction preparations, during which only one lane will be open. The stretch of U.S. Highway 50 will remain single-lane for the remainder of the project following the full closure. Caltrans estimates the project could take 50 days. Both lanes will be open during Memorial Day weekend.
“We don’t want to inconvenience anyone longer than we have to,” Shoopman said. “But this is a safety project. It’s our No. 1 priority to get this done.”
However, a stormy forecast could push the start date back as late as May 2. But the project will be finished this construction season, Shoopman said.
Because of the possible economic impact, south Tahoe business interests have been at a tug-of-war over the ideal dates for the construction. With the ski season lasting until late April and the Amgen Tour of California expected to draw between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors to the area in mid-May, the closure has a narrow window that ensures the least interference.
“Every interest has good reason for being concerned over the closure,” said Carol Chaplin, Executive Director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “I’m empathetic with all those.”
Though Sierra-at-Tahoe’s closing date has not been announced, skiers and snowboarders who visit the resort could be affected by the road closure.
“We’ll communicate with South Lake Tahoe skiers and visitors the best way to get to the resort if Highway 50 closes,” said Steven Hemphill, Sierra-at-Tahoe spokesman.
With spring weddings booked months and sometimes even years in advance, Derek Tarpey, president of the South Lake Tahoe Wedding and Honeymoon Association, is concerned about the impact the closure will have on the industry. However, he believes people will still come to Tahoe to get married.
“If it’s difficult to get into town those groups are going to be put off,” said Tarpey. “They may change dates. They may look for dates later in the year. But I believe people still want to get married in Tahoe.”
Chaplin said Caltrans has been very accommodating for the varying stakes.
“We only have so many days to get our visitors in and out,” she said. “And I think Caltrans understands that.”