State highway officials are laying the groundwork for a $50 million safety upgrade of Highway 50 east of Placerville, a continuation of decades-long efforts to modernize one of the oldest mountain highways in the state.
The key element will be installation of two miles of concrete median divider to separate oncoming traffic in the winding and mountainous section between Placerville and the popular Apple Hill area.
Caltrans officials previously added safety features to Highway 50 west of Placerville and improved highway efficiency through the town, although there still are three traffic lights on the highway.
The new project, a partnership of the state and El Dorado County, extends safety measures from Still Meadows Road to a few hundred yards east of Upper Carson Road along a section where vehicles traveling 60-plus mph pass within 10 feet of each other in opposite directions with no barrier between them.
“The community has been asking about this for a long time,” Caltrans spokesman Steve Nelson said. “Folks up there know this is a tricky and dangerous stretch. It is much needed.”
The project includes widening the four-lane highway’s outside shoulders and installing acceleration and deceleration lanes for cars leaving the roadway onto connecting streets, many of which are small, slow-speed and at right angles to the highway.
The state also plans to build an undercrossing as part of the project, to compensate for closure of the some of the left-turn lanes on the highway. Caltrans has been asking community members for help in deciding where to put that undercrossing and which left-turn lanes to close.
The project was based on a study conducted from 2009 to the end of 2011 that show a crash rate higher than the state average, and it concluded that left turns across the highway pose a particular high risk. There were 49 crashes, including 11 broadsides.
A public meeting to discuss the project – with focus on the Carson Road area – is scheduled on Thursday at Camino Elementary School, 3060 Snows Road, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Caltrans staff will give a presentation at 5:45 p.m.
A formal draft environmental report will be published next spring for public review and comment. Caltrans will hold another public meeting then.
Construction is planned to start in spring 2019 and finish in 2021.