$4 million North Tahoe truck ramp upgrade on tap for 2016
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A North Lake Tahoe runaway truck ramp is scheduled to receive a major facelift in 2016, years after two deaths and several near-misses raised safety concerns.
The roughly $4 million Nevada Department of Transportation project will add seven pre-tensioned drag nets to the ramp near the intersection of highways 431 and 28, while converting its surface to concrete.
Currently, the ramp has a rock surface, bookended by four large piles of rock and sand that are supposed to serve as a barrier between a runaway rig stopping, versus flying off the inclined plane and landing in the residential neighborhood below.
“Essentially, the … nets will catch the front grill of vehicles and safely absorb the impact to slow, then ultimately stop, any runaway vehicle,” said NDOT Public Information Officer Meg Ragonese. “The concrete surface of the truck ramp will be heated, either through conduction or hydronic heating, to ensure that snow or ice does not hamper movement or use of the nets.”
The concept comes from similar ramps in Europe and Canada, she said, and it’s already in use in some American states.
The project is tentatively scheduled to be bid in early 2016, with construction starting next May and continuing through the summer; it will be paid for mostly by federal transportation safety funds, Ragonese said.
The section of Highway 28 between the Mount Rose Summit and Incline Gateway roundabout 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.
“There are approximately 5,000 vehicles that travel this section … every day, and roughly 5 percent of those are trucks,” Ragonese said. “We are focused on safety and mobility, and this new truck escape ramp system will be an addition to help keep the road safe for all drivers and the community in general.”
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.
Since those incidents, NDOT began reviewing the ramp to identify possible improvements, Ragonese said. 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.
The new design in Incline Village may serve as a model for Nevada, Ragonese said, as NDOT is considering upgrading its two ramps on U.S. Highway 50 between Carson City and Spooner Summit, and the one on Highway 163 in Clark County.
“If there is the success and improved operability that we anticipate with the drag net system, we would then potentially utilize that for future improvements at other ramps,” she said.
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 settled out of court in early 2014 for more than a half-million dollars, said Reno attorney Craig M. Burkett, who represented Knowles and Diaz. 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.