Emergency funds pave way for road repairs | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Emergency funds pave way for road repairs

Rob Bhatt

Nearly five months after New Years Floods of 1997, paving contractors around the Tahoe Basin are gearing up for what promises to be a busy summer.

As the May 1 start of the grading season approaches, local officials are planning an assault on damage to area roads caused by unprecedented rainfall totals in December and January.

South Lake Tahoe road officials have applied for $180,000 in federal and state disaster assistance to repair roads undermined by higher than normal ground water level.

The city expects additional disaster relief to pay for six extra workers to focus on restoring damaged roadside shoulders.

El Dorado County Highway Supervisor Tom Halvorson estimated the cost of repairing waterlogged county roads may climb up to $500,000, possibly more.

And general improvement districts in Douglas County also have applications in for federal aid to repair spot damage on roads throughout the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin.

Throughout the area, sections of roads have sank, been washed away or ruptured. Experts blame the problem on soil saturation beneath the pavement.

“Whenever you have heavy moisture, you have the most asphalt destruction,” said Danny Olsen of Olsen Paving and Sealcoating.

Olsen said it is typical to see asphalt damaged by winter precipitation every spring, with greater levels of damage following wetter winters.

In some places, particularly steep hillsides, roadside shoulders had two to three foot canyons carved out by winter storm runoff.

Obviously, Lake Tahoe was not alone when it came to damage from the deluge that brought in the new year.

The seven Nevada counties declared federal emergency zones have asked for a combined $2.2 million in aid to repair damaged bridges and roads, said Gordon Absher, spokesman for Governor Bob Miller’s Flood Recovery Task Force. The amount does not include funds to repair federal highways.

Forty-eight of California’s 58 counties were declared emergency zones. To date, jurisdictions across the state have requested $87 million in funds for non-federally funded road repairs, said Susie Wong, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in California.

At Lake Tahoe, with the exception of roads that otherwise would have remained impassable, most of the damage assessments are only now being completed as winter’s snow melts.

“Every week, we find a couple of more roads that have fallen apart in spots,” Halvorson said last week.

After the grading season begins and the area’s asphalt supplier – Tahoe Asphalt – reopens, the effort should be in full force next month.

“We’re planning on taking an aggressive stance on trying to get as much of the street damage as we can,” said Scott Rogers, street supervisor for the city of South Lake Tahoe.

The city plans to contract out for repairs to road damage caused directly by storms. Rogers said the city would not otherwise have enough resources to complete routine, annual summer road maintenance projects.

California Department of Transportation officials reported relatively minor damage on area highways. Mudslides on U.S. Highway 50 kept Caltrans crews and their contractors busy all winter. Norman Butts, Caltrans’ area superintendent, expects work to continue throughout the summer to fix and maintain spot damage on Highway 50 across the American River Canyon.

Caltrans has received federal and state highway funds to fix mudslide damage.

The local agencies are funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration in conjunction with each state’s emergency services office. The federal government is paying 75 percent of the cost of restoring storm related damage to its form prior to the floods. The states are responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.