Highway 50 projects, delays begin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Highway 50 projects, delays begin

Jenifer Ragland

Repairs on a section of storm-damaged U.S. Highway 50 between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe will start today and are expected to cause 30- to 60-minute traffic delays on weekdays and nights.

Weekend traffic will remain unaffected throughout the three-month project, in response to concerns that delays or closures would hurt businesses depending on visitors from Sacramento and the Bay Area.

“We’re trying to work it out so we don’t impact the business community and don’t impact the motorists any more than we have to, and yet get the work done,” said Pat Miller, California Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Starting Sept. 2, the highway will be closed from noon Monday to noon Friday and traffic will be diverted to an alternate U.S. 50 – a combination of county, U.S. Forest Service and state roads. The road that connects State Route 88 to U.S. Highway 50 near Placerville is also known as Mormon Emigrant Trail or Iron Mountain Road.

The detour, which is 27 miles longer and adds about 40 minutes to driving time, will be repaved, painted and a slipout is being repaired under a $2.7 million contract. Caltrans will also install signs to guide motorists unfamiliar with the route.

“I think (the road work) will hurt a little, but I’d rather have it now under controls than later if another slide comes down and someone gets killed,” said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and member of the Highway 50 steering committee.

The $9 million project will restore or improve areas along Highway 50 from 20 to 40 miles east of Placerville, said Irene Itamura, Caltrans District 3 director.

Much of the work is preventative, including removal of unstable material from hillsides above the highway, placing rocks along slopes between the highway and the American River, putting in larger drains alongside and under the highway and installing new drains in the hillside to reduce excess moisture.

“We’re not going to be able to prevent landslides in that canyon,” Miller said. “What we’re doing is trying to reduce some of the potential.”

The contractor will also repair and resurface the section of roadway most damaged by a series of winter storms, flooding and a massive mudslide earlier this year.

At that time, South Lake Tahoe’s main tourism artery was closed off and on for more than two months and local business took a hit estimated at up to $53 million.

Wallace encouraged members of the community to help business owners this time around by refraining from telling people the highway is closed.

“There is an alternate route. I’ve driven it, and it’s beautiful,” he said. “We don’t want people to think there’s no way to get to Tahoe.”

Caltrans will be chipping in $150,000 to help the affected communities market the alternate route, in hopes if minimizing any negative economic impact, Wallace said.

To expedite job completion, the department has also added incentive and disincentive provisions – $50,000 per day – to the contract.

“We need to get the work done before the rainy season and while temperatures are still warm enough to give us a pavement that will last a while,” Itamura said.

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