After fatal accidents, Tahoe runaway truck ramp project is complete | SierraSun.com

After fatal accidents, Tahoe runaway truck ramp project is complete

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Nevada Department of Transportation announced Nov. 18 it had completed a multimillion-dollar project to reconstruct the runaway truck ramp at the end of the Mt. Rose Highway in Incline Village.

“The truck ramp … has been converted from the previous rock surface to asphalt,” according to an NDOT news release. “A series of six, pre-tensioned drag nets were installed on the truck ramp to catch the front grill of runaway vehicles and help safely absorb the impact to slow, then ultimately stop, the vehicle.”

Further, the asphalt surface of the truck ramp will be heated to ensure snow or ice does not hamper use of the nets during winter months.

Two roadside flashing signs and one large overhead digital message sign have also been installed to alert drivers when a vehicle is in the ramp.

“Approximately 5,000 vehicles travel this section of the Mt. Rose Highway every day, including semi-trucks,” NDOT District Engineer Thor Dyson said in a statement. “We are dedicated to traffic safety and mobility, and this innovative truck escape ramp system will help keep the road safe for all drivers and the community in general.”

Commercial trucks that were previously prohibited to travel westbound (toward Lake Tahoe) during construction are now permitted on both directions of Mt. Rose Highway.

According to previous reports, work on the roughly $4.6 million project — the concept of which came from similar ramps in Europe and Canada, as well as some in the U.S. — began in May by Q&D Construction, and it was completed on schedule.

RECENT FATAL INCIDENTS

The project was approved to increase safety on the ramp, which lies at the end of the dangerous stretch of Highway 28 between the Mt. Rose Summit and the Incline Gateway Roundabout.

The section of road has an average grade between 3 percent and 5 percent, at times approaching 6 percent, according to NDOT. While the speed limit can be as high as 55 mph, the roughly two-mile stretch within Incline Village limits is 35 mph.

In April 2012, an 18-wheeler hauling wood and other items was unable to stop on the highway, and it struck the ramp at a high rate of speed.

The ramp was reportedly effective in stopping the truck and its trailer; however, its load continued through the cab, killing the driver, Eric S. Holton, 31, of Gardnerville.

While the ramp did its job then, it failed on June 18, 2010. Frederick Matthews, 41, of San Diego was driving an out-of-control semi, and he hit the ramp and vaulted off, crashing into a private home at 645 Woodridge Circle.

The vehicle overturned and caught fire, setting the house ablaze. Matthews was trapped inside the truck cab and died.

UPGRADE WAS YEARS IN THE MAKING

Since those incidents, NDOT began reviewing the ramp — which was originally constructed in the late 1970s — to identify improvements, NDOT official Meg Ragonese said previously.

While moving the ramp was mulled, the upgrade was deemed the safest and most cost-effective option, as well as the best for the environment, considering fewer trees would be removed.

Regarding the 2010 incident at 645 Woodridge Circle, the home owners at the time — Damon and Suzanne Ewasko — filed a civil lawsuit that sought damages from four defendants: NDOT; Knowles Trucking Co. of Redding, Calif., and Rafael Diaz (who both owned, operated and maintained the truck that crashed into their home); and Andrew Hamilton, the real estate agent who sold the property to the Ewaskos.

The suit was reportedly settled out of court in early 2014 for more than a half-million dollars. Of that figure, NDOT had to pay about $25,000.

At the time, the June 2010 incident marked the third major truck crash in the past nine years at the ramp, including a May 2002 incident when a truck carrying gypsum wallboard and a hydraulic lift was also sent airborne.

In that instance, the driver, 23-year-old Manuel Ortega-Portillo, suffered moderate head injuries and was airlifted for medical attention. The truck came to rest next to the same house on Woodridge Circle, which was damaged slightly from flying debris.