El Niño at Tahoe great for skiing, helping drought — but bad for potholes | SierraSun.com

El Niño at Tahoe great for skiing, helping drought — but bad for potholes

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — While this winter season's wet and snowy conditions have done wonders for Tahoe skiing conditions and relieving drought conditions, they're causing a problem for motorists — potholes.

Potholes form when melting snow seeps in and under asphalt pavement, expanding and contracting depending on the temperature and weakening the roadway, which is compounded when the weight of vehicle traffic pass over the affected area.

"We're experiencing a very wet El Niño winter season so far, and that's a significant contributing factor to the number of potholes we're seeing on Tahoe area highways," said Steve Nelson, Caltrans District 3 public information officer.

Other factors include the age of the pavement — if it's near the end of its service life, the more likely it's to get potholes — and volume of traffic on a roadway, he said.

Caltrans, which is responsible for Highways 267, 89 and portions of 28 in the Truckee/Tahoe region, is aware that sections along those highways are affected and need to be addressed.

"Caltrans is taking the (pothole) issue very seriously," Nelson said. "Safety is our top priority. Unfortunately, given that the region has been hit by a series of storms with very little break in between, it's difficult for our crews to get to all the areas that need attention."

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Filling in the holes

This winter, the work of Caltrans maintenance crews has been dominated by snow removal to keep local highways open, he said. Yet, when there have been breaks in the storms — and conditions permit — crews have been out addressing potholes.

For potholes to be filled — which is one of the ways Caltrans is temporarily fixing the holes — roads need to be dry, otherwise the new asphalt won't adhere properly to the existing roadway.

When possible, crews are focusing on the worst holes in wheel tracks first as those are most likely to cause vehicle damage, Nelson said.

Those who sustain damage to their vehicle from a pothole on a California roadway, can submit a claim to Caltrans for possible reimbursement.

Meanwhile, Caltrans advises motorists to avoid distracted driving, so potholes can been seen in advance and avoided, while staying within one's travel lane.

As the winter season progresses, it's anticipated the pothole situation on state roads in the region to get worse, Nelson confirmed.

"As long as the storms continue as they have been and with some of the sections of road in the condition they are in, it will continue to be a challenge for our maintenance staff to address the pothole problems, but we are putting a lot of time and money into the effort," he said.

Since September 2015 up until Monday, $19,762 has been spent on purchasing pothole patch products for the Tahoe City and Truckee North maintenance yards, which cover highways 89, 28 and 267, Nelson said.

This amount does not include the cost of patch material previously or soon to be purchased. Funding is coming out of District 3's regular maintenance budget.

'Limited Weather Windows'

Outside of the main highways across North Tahoe-Truckee, potholes also are cropping up on Placer/Nevada/El Dorado county- and town of Truckee-managed roadways.

"We're seeing more incidents of potholes on the town's road network than in the past 15 years, with those incidents being focused on high volume roadways where the pavement has reached the end of its useful life," said Dan Wilkins, public works director/town engineer for Truckee.

More specifically, West River Street and Brockway Road are pothole-laden, said Wilkins, adding that both road tops were scheduled prior to this winter to be improved in the 2016 and 2017 construction season, respectively.

Meanwhile, the town's newly redone roads such as Glenshire Drive have no pothole issues, he said.

Of the town's 155-mile road network, only 5 to 6 miles are experiencing numerous potholes, which doesn't include sporadic potholes in Truckee.

The town's Public Works Department is patching potholes when possible, but so far this winter, there have been "limited weather windows" to do so, Wilkins said.

When conditions allow, crews are filling in the holes, with a priority of patching the larger potholes on the more heavily traveled roads.

As for roads local roads in Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties, residents can contact a county's public works or transportation division to report a road maintenance issue.

Keeping roads 'clear and safe'

Just like the weather at Lake Tahoe, potholes know no state lines, and they are appearing on Nevada roadways, including sections of Highway 28 in the Incline Village, Crystal Bay area.

Within the Tahoe region, the Nevada Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining 28 from Crystal Bay to the junction of U.S. Highway 50, and Mt. Rose Highway (431) from the junction of 28 in Incline to the junction of U.S. Highway 395 in Reno.

"NDOT is dedicated to keeping our highways and roadways clear and safe," said Meg Ragonese, public information officer for the department. "Preserving our roadways for the safety and mobility of the traveling public, and as an investment in Nevada infrastructure and commerce, is something we take very seriously,"

In order to keep impacted roads safe and smooth, NDOT plans to enact a multi-step approach, which includes pothole patching, followed by sealing cracking in roadway surfaces this spring and larger road top projects in the coming years, she said.

Immediate pothole repairs in Incline will mostly be done overnight, as to not interfere with commute traffic, Ragonese said.

"We always welcome citizen feedback, as it helps us to continually enhance our roadways for driver safety and mobility," she said.

More online

Visit dot.ca.gov/hq/maint/msrsubmit to report a pothole to Caltrans through a maintenance service request submission.

Visit dot.ca.gov/damageclaims.htm to file a damage claim with Caltrans.

Visit townoftruckee.com/departments/public-works/road-maintenance to submit a service request for a potholes and other maintenance issues.

Visit nevadadot.com or call 775-834-8300 or 775-888-7000 for NDOT road information or concerns.

Visit placer.ca.gov/departments/works/roadmaintenance to report and fill out a concern form with Placer County.

Visit mynevadacounty.com/nc/cda/pw/Pages/About-Road-Maintenance.aspx or call 530-265-1411 to notify Nevada County of a road maintenance request.

Visit edcgov.us/DOT/Contact.aspx to find contact information for EL Dorado’s Transportation Division.