Heavy storm reminder of Highway 50 need
Mother Nature has not been kind to U.S. Highway 50 this year.
A thunderstorm Sunday seemed to focus its attention over Whitehall, dropping torrential rains on the unstable slope where on Jan. 24, 300,000 cubic yards of mud and debris slid over the highway.
Sunday’s storm did not cause a mudslide, defined by slippage beginning below the surface. The deluge did wash off enough surface soil to turn the American River muddy brown and to cover a small stretch of the highway with 3 to 4 inches of mud – unnerving drivers in the process.
The California Department of Transportation held traffic between 5:42 p.m. and 6:24 p.m. so loaders could push the debris away.
“It was not a slide,” repeated Caltrans spokeswoman Pat Miller. “It was from surface erosion and did not come from underneath.”
Any closure makes local officials nervous. The winter closure lasted three weeks and was preceded by a two-week closure beginning New Year’s Day. Together, they wrecked havoc on South Shore tourism.
Caltrans scrambled to reopen the highway both times with emergency repairs. Much more needs to be done to stabilize the slope, $11 million more.
“It’s a timely reminder as to why it’s important to bite the bullet and get repairs done this summer,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis, admitting there’s never a good time for traffic delays on Highway 50. “The bottom line is that we’ve got to get it done.”
Specific plans are still in the works but Caltrans officials expect some combination of delays, temporary closures and complete closures with traffic diverted to Iron Mountain Road.
City, business and county officials, in league through the Highway 50 Coalition, have been working with Caltrans officials to minimize the impact on the Tahoe economy.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Davis said. “We’ve got to get it done but there’s no good time.”
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