Highway 50 committee in the works | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Highway 50 committee in the works

Sally J. Taylor

Emergency repairs on slide and flood damage along U.S. Highway 50 is not enough to make the highway a safe lifeline for the South Shore economy, according to a contingent of business representatives.

“Everyone feels the road is unsafe there (along the American River),” Stan Hansen said on Thursday to the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “It’s the time and opportunity now to step up and really put political pressure to bare.”

To keep pressure on for the long haul, chamber President Jim Rafferty is spearheading an effort to form a community-based Highway 50 Committee.

“Never forget how important this issue is,” Rafferty, the corporate vice president of marketing at Harveys Resort Hotel/Casino, told the chamber during Thursday’s board of directors meeting. “Highway 50 is our lifeline.”

Although the committee is not officially formed yet, South Shore and Placerville business leaders and owners of businesses along the Highway 50 corridor have been meeting together and with California Department of Transportation officials to look for solutions and funds.

Major winter storms closed the highway for most of January and February due to flood damage and a massive slide.

Since the first closure on Jan. 1, Caltrans personnel have worked feverishly to repair damage and keep the road open. Millions of dollars would be required to minimize the possibility of future slides.

A Caltrans map identifies six potential slide areas within a five-mile stretch east of Riverton – a legacy from several forest fires during the last 25 years.

Geologic equipment is set up at those sites and monitored 24 hours a day at the Caltrans office and in staff homes. If movement is detected, the highway could again be closed to protect drivers from potential slides.

Hansen, along with other community leaders, recently discussed the future of Highway 50 with Caltrans officials including District 3 Director Irene Itamura.

Caltrans currently has $3 million set aside for emergency repairs, Hansen said.

An estimated $12 million is needed for short-term repairs over a two-year period. Those include scaling back slopes above the road to remove precarious rocks; laying rock to stabilize the slope between the highway and the river; replacing 18-inch culverts currently in place with 36-inch culverts; and installing horizontal drainage to divert runoff from unstable slopes.

Additional slope stabilization will be paid for by the U.S. Forest Service, which owns most of the land burned in recent forest fires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will help fund repairs to restore Highway 50 to its previous condition but not make improvements.

“What we’re doing now is trying to get (Caltrans) additional revenues,” Hansen said.

For starters, Hansen and other community leaders hope to convince Congressman John Doolittle to add a $12 million Highway 50 provision to legislation recently proposed for emergency funding in Yosemite.

Currently, HR 528 provides $178 million for road and facilities repairs in Yosemite.

Doolittle is expected to meet with local officials this week and tour Highway 50.

Just what it would take to improve the safety and reliability of the highway for the long term is uncertain.

Relocating the highway between Riverton and Kyburz, the stretch with the most serious stability problems, would cost $200 to 250 million.

But the relocation path proposed in 1983 also slid in January, Hansen said.

“We’re looking at emergency areas (for improvement),” Hansen said. “To push for four lanes doesn’t seem prudent at this time (due to costs and environmental impacts).”

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