Publisher’s Perspective: Learning the same lessons from snow and fire (Opinion)
If the 35-mile logjam of vehicles last week hearkened back visions of the Caldor Fire evacuations, you’re not alone. Only this time the problem was almost the opposite. Instead of the south shore community looking to get out to the north/east, people from all over the region needed to get home (or more appropriately, through) to the south/west. It was like an entire NFL stadium exiting a football game but with one single exit – and in vehicles. Oh, and during a snowstorm on top of another storm that was one of the biggest in recent years.
I need to preface this discussion by thanking the tireless work of CalTrans and NDOT. They did not cause the issue that was experienced by many – just a perfect storm creating an unfortunate situation. Instead, let’s blame Christmas. No, not really, but that’s probably where this whole thing begins.
Our area of the Sierra Nevada is a drive market. Yes, we are supported through the airport(s) as well, but it is and (probably) always will be primarily a drive-first market. When you have millions of people not far from here that know what this place offers, it’s hard to keep them away – the pandemic certainly showed us that.
The slew of cars that literally inched their way along the snow covered roads were not all visitors to Tahoe. Interstate 80 doesn’t just feed the north shore, but Reno as well. Let’s also not forget Hwy 88 feeding the Carson Valley and beyond. So when every main escape route from Tahoe to Reno and in everywhere in between closes for multiple days after one of the biggest travel holidays of the year, that’s a lot of extremely antsy people wanting (and needing) to get home. That was the sleeping giant.
However, the situation on the surface wasn’t all that new. Tahoe has been left on an island (all roads closed) plenty of times. What was new was the duration and aggregation of road closures, power of the storm, and the eagerness of holiday-traveling folks to get home, which exacerbated the whole situation.
Was this also a people problem? I cannot tell you how many stories, posts, tweets, etc., that discouraged holiday travel. Judging by that conga line of vehicles, many people didn’t heed this advice.
Sure, that’s a simple finger to point. Although, I can’t say I’m one to always obey those types of warnings, so I guess I’m just as guilty – although not this time. But, who among us hasn’t seen those types of warnings only to have a storm peter out and not be anywhere close to what was forecasted? Or traveled those roads before and managed them just fine?
I’d imagine many of them had reservations, and in some cases without enough notice, your going to lose some (if not all) what you already paid. Or, only planned for so long before the next round of visitors were ready to take their accommodations. So while sure, that contributed to the congestion, congestion in Tahoe is also not new, so let’s not be too harsh in this area.
I’ve seen people also quick to blame the big rig that jackknifed, causing the closure not long after opening and starting the traffic bottleneck. Those drivers probably have more right to the road than we do and have a hard enough job as it is. They’re the ones that keep us fed, keep fuel in our vehicles and snow blowers, and probably the ones who brought you your Christmas gift. Coincidentally, they’re now charged with replenishing those resources that were sucked out of the basin leaving a wake of concern that now is the burden of the local communities.
While we could probably go on and on about who or what to blame, let’s instead focus on the instance itself and if what happened can be a valuable lesson.
There were reports of people getting out of their cars and walking down the road to find bathrooms or ask about gas stations because they were stuck for so long. No, I’m not advocating for outhouses along Hwy 50, only pointing out the huge safety issue of people walking on a snow and ice covered road – regardless if one side was at a standstill.
Kudos to Nevada for pulling the trigger on the State of Emergency – although it could have been a little earlier. Why exactly didn’t California do the same? Who knows? But if we’ve seen anything across the basin work at its best, its when both states work together. This shouldn’t have been any different.
When you have that many people that could potentially clog roads even further due to various circumstances, and resources bursting at the seams, combined with the city activating emergency operations, you’d think there would be more action and support from the higher level.
During the Caldor Fire, it seemed like both California and Nevada agencies worked together to the best of their abilities to keep people and communities safe. This wasn’t due to a fire, but it looked eerily similar. Should it be any different when the safety and health of people and the communities are threatened?
Yes, there should be varying degrees of response based on the situation, but in a situation like this, being lockstep to protect the lives of people seems like the right thing to do.
In the end, it always seems to come down to working together and, as this situation spotlighted tremendously, being patient and understanding.
Publisher Rob Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-542-8046.
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