Western Nevada County residents call on Caltrans to eliminate detour
April 30, 2009
NEVADA CITY “-Nearly 100 Nevada City residents, often shouting and drowning out Caltrans officials, voiced their displeasure over being kept out of the planning process for the Interstate 80 detour that has rattled both windows and nerves in the small town.
The meeting was initially designed as a forum where individuals could meet personally with Caltrans officials to discuss their issues one-on-one, but quickly turned into a public comment showdown when residents insisted their concerns weren’t properly being addressed.
The meeting was called by Caltrans officials and served as a chance for residents to ask questions and submit ideas on how to minimize the potential danger of big-rig travel and the rumbling of Jake brakes through residential areas.
Resident Tom Grundy came armed with business cards touting a Web site where people have shared testimonials about the danger of the detour. Grundy lives on King Hiram street in Nevada City in an apartment where he’s not the only one with frayed nerves.
“I’ve had my doors rattle every evening,” he said. “There are residents ready to move out.”
Grundy was one of a few dozen people who implored Caltrans to look at alternatives to the detour other than sending heavy trucks along the narrow bends of Highway 20 into Nevada City.
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The detour, which began March 31, is designed to re-route trucks away from the interstate while crews rebuild a stretch of the interstate east of the Highway 174/Interstate 80 offramp to Alta, a stretch of 44 “lane miles” of highway that hasn’t been replaced since the road was first built in time for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley.
The “Gold Run III” project costs $73 million out of $520 million for the entire project from Auburn, over Donner Pass and into Nevada.
The detour in Nevada County is scheduled to end in November.
The route is important because it is the only major east-west interstate crossing between Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., Caltrans staff have said.
An average of 500 big rigs are using the detour nightly ” a major decline in the normal number of trucks that cross the interstate over the Donner Pass to get to either Reno from the west or San Francisco from the east.
Westbound trucks are piloted by the California Highway Patrol from the 20/80 offramp, along Highway 20 until they reach the Uren Street offramp on the Golden Center freeway.
Many residents asked if the detour could be eliminated entirely by building a temporary “crossover” in the westbound lanes, creating one lane each of east- and westbound traffic.
Scores of speakers asked about that option, which Caltrans safety coordinator Ed Yarbrough said Caltrans would be obligated to consider. Caltrans had looked at the option before construction began, but deemed the lanes too tight for such a plan, Yarbrough said.
“From a safety standpoint, it wasn’t considered viable,” said project manager Doug Lange. “We’ll have to look at all of our options, but closure is the safest option.”
“We have the responsibility now to look at that option,” Yarbrough said. “We have the staff to look at these issues. I want it to be safe for the public.”
Residents are upset because they said they weren’t properly notified of the detour when it was first announced, and that meetings weren’t held in Nevada County, where the trucks are detoured off of the interstate, onto Highway 20, along the Golden Center Freeway and back on the interstate in Auburn.
Mostly, resident Diane Jacobsen said, the people in the audience were fearful of the danger of fire, as well as the inability to sleep because of the noise of the trucks and their Jake brakes.
“I think what you’re seeing here is tired people,” Jacobsen said. “We’re tired because we’re not getting any sleep.”