Tahoe Roads: Be prepared when traveling during winter months at Lake Tahoe (opinion)
January 18, 2019
Editor's Note: The Tahoe Roads column is a monthly feature providing updates on Caltrans projects and other road-related news.
The season of snow is upon us once again and it's as important as ever to remember that winter weather is never predictable. This edition of Tahoe Roads is all about snow removal: explaining Caltrans' winter operations, the departments overseeing each jurisdiction of the Tahoe Basin, as well as some tips to ensure drivers experience safe commutes, all winter long.
Snow Removal Materials
Brine (salt mixed with water) is a de-icer used before and after a storm hits to help melt the snow and prevent freezing. Sand is also applied to roadways during storms for better traction. Brine is a liquid salt solution that Caltrans has opted to use more over the years because it is easier on the environment than rock salt. Across the country officials are reviewing alternatives to using rock salt since it's tough on vehicles, difficult to remove and studies have shown it's detrimental to the environment.
Snow Removal Operations
During storms plows push snow off the highway, while graders work the shoulders outside of the travel lane and are typically deployed after the storm has ended. Next, blowers draw up the snow and shoot it off the shoulder. To maintain visibility and access for drivers within the city of South Lake Tahoe, Caltrans plow drivers push snow to the middle of the highway and then blow the snow into dump trucks operated by independent contractors, who then haul it to Caltrans' snow yard.
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Contact information by jurisdiction:
Highways in California — Caltrans District 3: 530-741-4572
City surface streets — South Lake Tahoe Public Works: 530-542-6030
Tahoe Basin Roads — El Dorado County Road Maintenance Division: 530-573-3180
Know Before You Go
The biggest issue Caltrans sees year after year is an influx of visitors who are unprepared for traveling in winter weather. Always check the forecast and road conditions before traveling and be sure that you've packed the tools or warm clothes or blankets you might need if you get stuck.
View road conditions, closures and more with the Caltrans' QuickMap (quickmap.dot.ca.gov or the free QuickMap app on iTunes or Google Play) or call the Caltrans Highway Information Network at 800-427-7623 for information.
Pack chains: All vehicles (even with four-wheel drive or snow tires) should carry chains when traveling in snowy weather; chains are required to proceed from chain control checkpoints. Only install or remove chains from safe locations out of traffic areas and stay within the speed limit of 25-30 mph with chains on your tires.
Take your time: Road conditions can change rapidly due to unsafe conditions. The California Highway Patrol and Caltrans will sometimes hold traffic due to high winds blowing snow and decreasing visibility leading to spinouts and crashes on the roadways. Always drive at a slower speed and maintain plenty of room between your vehicle and anyone in front of you (six car lengths at a minimum is recommended) to allow for additional stopping time in stormy conditions.
Emergency kit: Having some essentials in your vehicle can make all the difference if you are stranded in a snowstorm. Keep a flashlight, gloves, ice scraper, broom, shovel, sand or kitty litter in your vehicle to remove snow and have better traction if you get stuck. Always pack blankets, a dry towel, extra clothing, water, snacks and a spare key when traveling during the winter months.
Mobility is Appreciated
During storms the motto is "all hands on-deck." Caltrans plow operators work 12-hour shifts during active storms to be sure locals and visitors can access roadways. Caltrans lead workers and supervisors can work 30-40 days straight, without a day off, to keep up with snow conditions, clear blocked drains to mitigate flooding, repair downed signs and ensure that residents, visitors, ski resorts and Tahoe's overall travel industry keep in motion.
Caltrans personnel and its partners with the county and city work tirelessly to keep our mountain roads open and safe.
Steve Nelson is public information officer for Caltrans District 3, which includes the Lake Tahoe Basin. For more detailed information on Caltrans projects and to view a real-time traffic flow map, please visit TahoeRoads.com. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, @TahoeRoads, to engage with us and see interesting posts about California's urban, mountain, prairie and lake basin terrain.