Caltrans: 237 employees ready for Tahoe-Truckee area snow removal
With long-range forecasts calling for a wetter-than-normal winter for central California, Caltrans is not only ready for such a season, but looking forward to it.
“We’ve been drinking the same Kool-Aid that everyone else has with the prediction of El Niño,” said Stan Richins, Sutter-Sierra region manager for Caltrans. “We’re hoping that we’re going to have just a great winter with normal or above-normal snowfall. We’re geared up for that.”
In District 3, which includes roadways in Northern Sierra counties, staffing is at 576 employees, which includes seasonal workers, said Steve Nelson, Caltrans District 3 public information officer.
Of that, 185 employees are assigned to the Interstate 80 corridor from Auburn to the Nevada state line, while highways 28, 89 and 267 have a combined 52 employees, he said.
As for snow removal equipment, I-80 has 145 machines assigned to it among the four maintenance stations that service the area — Truckee East/West, Kingvale, Whitmore and Auburn, Nelson said.
On average, roughly $4.7 million of commerce traverses I-80 at Donner Summit every hour, according to Caltrans, making it a high priority route.
Closer to Lake Tahoe, highways 28, 89 and 267 are also a “high priority” for Caltrans to keep clear and open, Richins said.
“They are high volume routes,” he said. “We need to keep them open and clear, so that people can get over here to do their business and have their entertainment. … We surely don’t want to be the cause of any economic downturn because we weren’t able to keep up with winter demands.”
The Tahoe City maintenance station, which services a portion of Highway 89 and all of Highway 28, has 19 pieces of equipment ready, Nelson said. Meanwhile, the Truckee North/South station, which services all of Highway 267 and a portion of 89, has 17 machines.
Recent forecasts continue to predict this year’s El Niño, among the strongest on record, will bring the chance of above normal precipitation for central and southern California.
Helping Caltrans District 3 handle whatever Mother Nature doles out this winter is a $66.1 million maintenance budget, which includes snow removal, for fiscal year 2015-16, Nelson said.
“This is based on looking at the past four years and can be adjusted depending on needs,” he elaborated. “Safety is Caltrans’ top priority, and the needs of the highways in the Sierra will be met.”
According to the National Weather Service, a winter storm capable of bringing one to three feet of snow above 7,000 feet and one to two feet of snow at lake level was expected to move into the Lake Tahoe basin Wednesday evening, lingering into Friday morning.
“Snowfall rates will exceed plowing capabilities at times,” according to NWS. “This includes Interstate 80, Highway 50, California highways 88, 89, 267 and Nevada highways 28, 207 and 431. … There is a potential for significant snow accumulations that may create hazardous winter driving conditions.”
When driving in winter conditions, Caltrans advises motorists to reduce speed; carry tire chains; keep a travel kit with blankets, food, water and a flashlight in the vehicle; maintain a full fuel tank; and don’t use cruise control.
“Be patient and leave plenty of time to get where you need to go,” Richins added.