Guardrail controversy grows
The Nevada Department of Transportation has joined forces with Caltrans to protest design standards that call for guardrails along highways around Lake Tahoe that better blend with the environment.
The guardrail that meets standards set by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a bistate agency established in 1969 to protect the lake and its environment, is called “rust rail.” Its orange-brown steel meets crash standards, but ultimately it is weaker and requires more maintenance than normal rail made with galvanized steel, transportation officials say.
“We’re not saying rust rail is the only option,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director. “We’re just looking for any option that tries to blend roadway into natural landscape.”
NDOT recently joined with Caltrans in protest of “rust rail” because of a $1.2 million safety project planned for Highway 50 between Spooner Summit and Stateline.
The work involves installation of guardrail as well as a rumble strip down the centerline of the highway, an area that NDOT says is prone to traffic accidents.
The strip is designed so it shakes drivers to attention if they approach the centerline. The TRPA has requested a noise study be completed for the rumble strip.
“The rumble strip and guardrail issues are about safety,” said NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder. “For all the stuff we’re doing around the lake we’ve gone the extra length to conform to their environmental and aesthetic guidelines. This is one situation where we feel we have to draw the line.”
The TRPA Governing Board last month gave its attorneys authority to sue Caltrans over 400 feet of galvanized guardrail it installed without permission along Highway 267, which runs from Kings Beach to Truckee. The agency has not decided whether it will pursue litigation.
“Rust rail is exactly what the name implies – it rusts,” said Jody Jones, Caltrans district director. “It’s started that rusting process already.
“In areas of high precipitation or where corrosive de-icers are used it tends to continue to rust and does at the lap joints where you can’t necessarily see it. It rusts there and you don’t know it, the car hits it and it won’t hold.”
Regan and Jones emphasized they expect to resolve their differences over the next several days. The TRPA Governing Board is scheduled to discuss the matter and it will consider taking legal action against Caltrans when it meets Dec. 15 at Stateline.
A solution proposed by Caltrans involves bathing galvanized guardrail in acid to dull the metal so it better blends with the environment, Jones said.
Bottom line, according to Regan, is that Caltrans had a condition on its permit that required the use of rust rail, not galvanized rail, along Highway 267.
“They did not follow it,” Regan said. “So we have to treat Caltrans and NDOT the same way we would any homeowner or any other project applicant.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org