NDOT, Washoe Co. snow removal in Incline garners criticism, praise | SierraSun.com

NDOT, Washoe Co. snow removal in Incline garners criticism, praise

■ Margaret Moran | mmoran@sierrasun.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — While those responsible for keeping the roads in Incline Village and Crystal Bay clear of snow and ice are pleased so far this winter, some residents are critical and calling for better snow removal.

"(Crews) needed to put the blade all the way to the ground," said Pete Todoroff, a 35-year Incline Village resident, referring to the sate of Highway 28 in town after a snowstorm in mid-December. "They just skimmed the top, and it became solid ice. (It) was very dangerous."

Todoroff, who serves as chairman of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Citizens Advisory Board, said he's heard complaints from roughly 10 to 15 residents regarding snow removal throughout the community, mainly on Highway 28/Tahoe Boulevard.

The Nevada Department of Transportation, which is responsible maintaining 28 from the California state line in Crystal Bay to the junction of U.S. Highway 50 at Spooner Summit, has two permanent maintenance personnel assigned to the 16-mile stretch of roadway, for a total of about 32 lane miles, said Meg Ragonese, public information officer for NDOT.

"The NDOT maintenance professionals … are experienced veterans with approximately 20 years of combined road maintenance experience, who have been handpicked to help keep State Route 28 clear and open," Ragonese said. "They know the roadway well and take pride in clearing the road for the safety and mobility of travelers."

Beyond those two employees ­— who are part of NDOT's Spooner Summit maintenance crew — the state has 12 roadway maintenance staff members assigned to the Mt. Rose Highway (431) from the Incline Gateway roundabout down to Galena, including three temporary winter positions.

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Meanwhile, of the five temp positions assigned to NDOT's Highway 28/U.S. 50 maintenance crew this winter, only one of those positions was filled due to a lack of interested and qualified candidates, Ragonese said.

Despite that, she said: "We are able to keep roadways clear and safe for drivers, even without filling all temporary winter maintenance positions. But, it does mean that our highway maintenance staff work overtime during heavy storms to ensure that roads are cleared.

"If a certain area of roadway is hit hard by winter weather, and another area is not impacted, we will mobilize resources and move staff members to help clear roadways most heavily impacted by the storm."

'THE ROADS ARE BETTER IN CALIFORNIA'

Gail Hill, a 27-year Village resident, has noticed a difference in the quality of snow removal along Highway 28 between Nevada and California this season.

In a recent interview with the Bonanza, Hill recalled one evening in mid-December that it started to snow while she was traveling home from Tahoe City.

"(We) didn't really notice a difference until we hit state line. It was like hitting a speed bump — bump, welcome to Nevada," she said. "… California roads were clear, and on the Nevada side of (the) state line, (there were) 3 inches of packed snow."

During another recent interview, Jean Gregg, a Kings Beach resident who works in Incline Village, also commented on the observed disparity between the two state's snow removal efforts.

"I can drive just fine on snow-packed roads, but it's when the slushy stuff stays on, and they don't clear it off and it freezes at night (that's worrying)," she said. "I have to drive back over (to Kings Beach) from Incline at 6 o'clock at night, and it makes me a little nervous at my age. I will say that California does a better job than Nevada."

Caltrans, which maintains California roadways, has 52 employees assigned to its side of Highway 28 and highways 89 and 267 this winter, according to a previous report.

In addition, Caltrans has 185 employees assigned to the Interstate 80 corridor from Auburn to the Nevada state line this season.

"… So far this winter, I've driven over Highway 267 to Highway 80 to Reno because the roads are better in California," Hill said.

As for those who have noted a difference between the two states, Ragonese said: "Snow and ice conditions and the way one winter storm may impact a specific segment of roadway varies greatly from storm to storm. This may be one reason drivers note a difference in road conditions in different areas.

"No matter the weather conditions, we will continue to work in conjunction with our partner agencies across the Tahoe basin to keep roadways clear."

'IT'S BEEN A PRETTY ROUGH WINTER'

Excluding Nevada routes 28 and 431, Washoe County is responsible snow removal for a majority of Incline/Crystal Bay roads, equaling a total of 72 paved lane miles.

This winter, the county has 11 full-time employees and 19 pieces of equipment — a fleet of made up of loader plows, truck plows and snow blowers — for the Incline area, said Rich Thomsen, supervisor of roads operations and maintenance for the county.

"This year, we've actually added (a) machine and operator back into the operation up here, which is a good thing 'cause it's been a pretty rough winter," he said. " … It cuts back on the overtime, and cuts down the amount of miles each route has. We've able to cut down some of the routes that were too big. With less miles, (operators) are able to plow their routes faster."

Despite that, Adam Searcy, a road operations superintendent for Washoe County, has received critical feedback from longtime area locals regarding quality of snow removal this winter.

"We have more modern, powerful and technologically advanced equipment, and have been utilizing it much in the same fashion as past years," he said. "Nothing has really changed in terms of work practices. We're attacking it much the same way as we have for decades."

Thomsen added that the operators clearing Incline and Crystal Bay roads are longtime veterans, several of whom have 15 years of experience or more.

Still, Thomsen and Searcy agree there is always room for improvement.

Yet, to some degree, that relies on residents and visitors following winter parking rules, vehicles keeping a safe distance from snow removal equipment, and residents keeping trash cans out of the street on pick-up day, Thomsen said.

"It's a tough day for them, the guys driving the plows, especially around the holidays when the traffic is real heavy," he said. "It really makes it a long day when you have to keep stopping and stopping and stopping because somebody parked in the road, garage cans are in the street, whatever. … Leave the right-of-way open for us to do our job. That's all we ask."

Still, while some residents have been critical, others have provided positive feedback.

"They seem to be doing pretty good. I've had no problem getting around," Incline Village resident Ken Viel said recently.

Ragonese said NDOT has received dozens of thank you letters this winter, including this statement from an unnamed author: "I commute over Mt. Rose Highway and Spooner Summit regularly. NDOT does a great job of keeping the roads clear of snow and ice, day and night. Your hard work, plus the use of brine, saves lives."

Since that mid-December storm, Todoroff, who contacted Washoe County to relay resident concerns, said he has noticed an improvement.

"It's greatly improved," he said, an observation he made following a post-Christmas snowstorm. "(There was) more blacktop — that's what we needed."

More online

Visit bit.ly/1Kb5bY9 to learn more about NDOT’s snow removal operations and driving tips.

Visit bit.ly/1nyqeKg to learn more about Washoe County’s snow removal operations.

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Contact information

Call 775-834-8300 or 775-888-7000 for NDOT snow removal information.

Call 775-328-2180 regarding snow removal in Washoe County’s portion of Lake Tahoe.