Highway 50/Spooner divide | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Highway 50/Spooner divide

Maybe the safest move would be to eliminate the Spooner Summit grade entirely – just blast it out of existence.

But of course, that’s just not realistic. And things are looking far better now with the barrier.

Over a period of 10 years, before construction of the nine-mile central divide last fall, the Nevada Department of Transportation recorded a slew of violent crashes along U.S. Highway 50, between Spooner Summit and Carson City. In the dismal category of accidents deemed preventable by installing a barrier, there were eight fatalities, 40 crashes with injury and 44 accidents involving property damage.

So NDOT, using federal monies set aside for road safety projects, built the 36-inch-high barrier, and so far, it has served its purpose.

“Our No. 1 reason for building the divide was to eliminate head-on collisions,” said Scott Magruder, NDOT public information officer. “There used to be roughly one death every year, on average. This winter we haven’t even noticed any major scrape marks on the barrier.”

However, the divide has not really been in place long enough to determine whether it is reducing accidents.

“At the moment, it’s too early to tell. It’s only been there since late fall, six months. We need at least a three-year time frame to evaluate the numbers,” said Fred Droes, NDOT chief safety engineer. “But so far, it’s eliminated head-ons, which was the purpose.”

The fact that there is only one opening along the nine-mile barrier has caused a number of driver complaints, according to Magruder.

“We feel one break is sufficient,” he said. “Any more would just be an obstacle that might cause accidents – say when a motorist turns into the oncoming traffic through the opening.”

The barrier was purposely built lower than the state standard to allow deer the ability to jump over it. NDOT installed fencing to funnel the deer and keep them from getting trapped on the highway.

Also, besides preventing head-on collisions, the barrier seems to encourage slower driving.

“One of the differences between this highway and Mount Rose is that the speeds are really high (on Highway 50) and have been the cause of some very unfortunate accidents,” Magruder said. “I think the tunnel effect of the barrier really slows drivers down.”

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