Slush in the road concerns drivers |

Slush in the road concerns drivers

Greg Risling

It’s a dark sludge that gathers on automobile wheelwells when snow is dispersed on California highways in the Tahoe Basin. When frozen and broken off, the black boulders of ice pose an obstacle for oncoming vehicles.

Call it the bump after the storm.

The residue left from melting snow on state highways is re-igniting a discussion about the California Department of Transportation’s snow removal procedure in Tahoe.

Caltrans employs a technique called “slushing.” Plows push the snow during a storm to the median and spread 1 or 2 inches over the road in the daytime so it melts. Pat Miller, a spokesperson for Caltrans, said slushing is used to make way for new snow. With the series of storm fronts that has battered the West Coast this winter, there has been little relief for snow removal crews.

“Out of the last 46 days, 40 of them we’ve had snow in Tahoe,” Miller said. “We haven’t had enough time to clear or widen the roads. We are trying to minimize the impact to the community.”

Most people who have driven on U.S. Highway 50 can attest to the dirty windshields or an occasional bumpy ride after a storm. Probably most common to motorists is the amount of dirty snow that builds up on fenders. As one person put it, the “wheel melons” are sometimes strewn upon the road causing drivers to maneuver around the small mounds of ice.

“Slushing is not the answer … you are just transferring the hardship on to the automobile,” said Mark Lucksinger, a board member for the South Shore Transit Management Association. The group had previously stated its opposition to the Caltrans practice last year.

Lucksinger’s car was a causality of the ice chunks. He said his oil pan was damaged when a piece of ice was temporarily lodged underneath his car. “I think slushing is a convenience thing but it’s a danger on the highway. Caltrans is usually very responsive to our concerns but we feel their practice may not be in the best interest of drivers.”

The transit organization wants Caltrans to haul the snow away by the truckload. Miller said it costs approximately $50 per load and with only eight snowblowers for Highway 50 and State Route 89, finding the time to clear all of the roads has been a challenge.

In contrast, the city of South Lake Tahoe doesn’t cart the snow away but rather pushes it to the side. Across the Nevada border, snow is shoved to road shoulders and taken away.

Caltrans has reduced the amount of snow scattered on the roads by several inches. But it’s the account SSTMA Director Dick Powers recalls that worries him.

“I saw a lady driving down the road with her window open and when a truck went by she got a face full,” Powers said. “We don’t have an issue with storing the snow in the middle of the road but it’s a bad practice to spread it out. We’d like to see them change their practice.”

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