Echo Summit project would close Highway 50 for three-plus weeks |

Echo Summit project would close Highway 50 for three-plus weeks

ECHO SUMMIT “-Caltrans has proposed closing Highway 50 for 24 days in 2011 to repair the barrier wall on Echo Summit ” a plan that is worrying South Shore businesses because of its impact on tourism.

Caltrans representatives presented the project at the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce board meeting on Thursday. They will also make a presentation on Jan. 27 to the South Lake Tahoe City Council.

The 18-inch-tall barrier wall was built in the 1930s, and has cracks and gaps that have been temporarily repaired with sand bags, Caltrans representative Tom Brannon said.

“We are at that point where we need to maintain it pretty badly,” Brannon said. “It’s a safety issue.”

The proposed project would begin May 31, 2011″ after Memorial Day, Brannon said. The road would open back up with flaggers directing traffic on June 24, 2011. Construction would stop for the July 4, 2011, weekend, then begin again after the holiday and be complete by July 15, 2011.

Caltrans presented five different scenarios, but the full road closure is the preferred method because it minimizes costs and lasts 44 days, Brannon said.

“We want to keep the number of work days as short as possible to have the least amount of impact to the community,” Brannon said.

But the project is still likely to involve the longest planned closure of Highway 50 in Lake Tahoe Basin history, Brannon said,

On Jan. 24, 1997 ” four years after the 24,000-acre Cleveland fire ” a landslide sent 2 million cubic yards of earth across Highway 50 and into the river, which shut the highway down for almost a month.

Board members agreed that the closure was the best option, but suggested some changes to the timeline.

“Pain is in all of these options, but the opportunity to minimize pain is in (the road closure),” said Chamber board member Carl Ribaudo.

Ribaudo recommended that Caltrans look at starting the project as early in April as possible.

A Tahoe Regional Planning Agency grading regulation is in effect each year until May 15, but certain exceptions can be made, said TRPA spokesman Dennis Oliver.

The official detour route is still being discussed, Brannon said.

Some have suggested using the Mormon Emigrant Trail as an alternative route. For that to be possible, Brannon said the road would need snow removal all season long, or an intense snow removal effort before the Highway 50 closure.

To restripe the traffic lanes and remove the snow would cost the state $1.27 million, Brannon said. If the road were damaged and needed to be repaved too, it would cost $4.6 million, Brannon said.

Even though the state would lose $1.27 million to use the Mormon Emigrant Trail as a detour route, South Shore businesses would lose that and possibly more during the 24 days, said Carol Chaplin, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority executive director.

“It affects us for years to come, because once we frustrate those visitors, we may never get them back again,” Chaplin said.

Chaplin recommended looking at a fall timeline instead of a spring and summer timeline.

The problem with a start time after Labor Day is that paving needs to be done at an ambient temperature of 60 degrees, said Ken Menkveld, Caltrans transportation engineer. A spring start time is less risky than fall because its not as much of a gamble for good weather.

Caltrans will make an aggressive effort to inform the public of the status of the project when it starts, said Rochelle Jenkins, Caltrans assistant public information officer.

During the Interstate 5 project in Sacramento, a Web site was created to inform the public, public service announcements were on all the radio stations and daily e-mails were sent to 16,000 e-mail addresses that signed up to receive them, Jenkins said.

About 10,000 e-mails were personally replied to within 24 hours, Jenkins added.

The whole community should be involved in getting the word out and not leave it all up to Caltrans, Ribaudo said.

In another road project that could cause major headaches for motorists in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Nevada Department of Transportation is eyeing the closure of Highway 28 on the east shore for resurfacing.

The plan calls for completely closing the stretch from Sand Harbor to the Carson City County line from Monday mornings through Thursday nights for three consecutive weeks this spring.

” Adam Jensen contributed to this report.

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