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Highway 50 to open

Sally Taylor

Good weather and good luck can be credited for the completion of emergency repairs on U.S. Highway 50 well ahead of and earlier estimate of March 31.

The highway is expected to reopen Friday at noon, officials from the California Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday.

An opening ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at Riverton. Local government officials and entertainers from the casinos are expected to be on hand.

“Elvis might be there but the governor will not,” said Phil Weidinger of Weidinger Public Relations regarding an early report that Governor Pete Wilson might attend the opening ceremony.

“We’ll have a brief ceremony then open that baby,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Pat Miller.

While reduced speeds may be required, traffic should move without construction interference, Miller said.

“Most emergency opening work has been completed,” she said, adding that additional construction would take place during the summer.

“I can’t give enough accolades to Caltrans,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis. “They have a can-do attitude.

“I’ll never do another Caltrans joke.”

The highway closed Jan. 24 after heavy rains triggered a massive slide near Whitehall. Called the Mill Creek Slide, it began 2,000 feet above the highway and buried 900 feet of road surface up to 50 feet deep. Several cabins and two vehicles were caught in the slide but no one was seriously injured.

An estimated 300,000 cubic yards of material has been cleared from the roadway and used to stabilize the slope above it.

The pavement required some repair, possibly due as much to the heavy equipment as the slide.

Miller attributed the speed of repairs to good weather that allowed work to continue 24 hours a day. Also aiding contractors was extra-heavy mining equipment brought in from Utah to haul larger loads; the close disposal sites that shortened turnaround time; and less damage to the road surface than expected.

“The work just went exceedingly well,” Miller said.

The stability of several areas of the highway remain in question and could result in future highway closures.

“We’ll be monitoring the area. We have geologists all over the place. If they spot a potential slide, we’ll shut the road down.”

Completion of the latest emergency project in half the expected time should also reduce the costs of the project from the initial estimate of $5 million.

“If we don’t have to pay for six weeks of salaries, that’s a lot of cost reduction.”

Due to unusually heavy winter storms, Highway 50 has only been open one week since New Year’s Day flooding along the American River undercut several stretches and triggered several smaller slides.

The highway reopened Jan. 17 only to close again a week later after the Mill Creek Slide.


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