Let sleeping California plows lie | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Let sleeping California plows lie

Sarah Gonser

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a convoy of snowplows barreling down U.S. Highway 50, snow flying off the blades, a layer of slush glistening in their wake. On the Nevada side, that is.

Quite often on the California side of the state line, the asphalt on Highway 50 remains hidden until midday. And even then, a massive berm usually divides the center lanes into a slushy, bumpy mess.

Most residents are used to it, but to the unbiased tourist the road situation – especially in light of recent snow storms – is pretty dismal.

“They clear the roads on the Nevada side because of the casinos, they don’t care on the California side,” said Susan Proctor, visiting from Phoenix. “It’s ridiculous. Sometimes you need chains on one side – and then have to take them off on the other side.”

But for long-time resident Bill Anderson, the causes behind the state line disparity are obvious, and nothing to get upset about.

“It’s a lot harder for California to do road clearing,” said Anderson, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe 26 years. “Nevada has no roadside businesses, so they can just push the snow off the sides. The California roadside is lined with businesses, so they have to push the snow into the center.”

Besides, it snows more in California. Seriously.

“The heaviest snow in California is in Meyers, and as it goes east into town, it lightens up,” said Norm Butts, California Department of Transportation area superintendent. “And I also suspect there’s less snowpack in the casino corridor because of the heat of the buildings.”

So if it snows more, plow more. Well, it’s not that simple.

Caltrans sets aside $200,000 each year for berm removal – a lengthy, expensive procedure involving a procession of trucks inching down the highway, waiting to cart away loads of snow from the center of the road.

“The biggest haul we had this year was 1,740 loads. That cost us $93,300,” Butts said. “If I get four hauls in a winter, then we have to find more money. It may come out of my (asphalt) mix allotment – I have to give something up to get more money – which will mean more potholes come summertime.”

According to Scott Magruder, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Transportation, both states clear highways in the same way.

“The main goal is to clear snow off the road. A convoy of two or three plows is the way you should really do it. Of course, when you’re dealing with a city you can’t just plow it off the side of the road,” Magruder said. “I think we clear the same way (Caltrans) does.”

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