A section of Highway 50 crumbled farther down the hillside early Tuesday near Bridal Veil Falls, offering the latest dramatic reminder of how vulnerable Sierra highways have become in this winter’s deluge of rain and snow.
Though the damaged road did not result in injuries, it prompted the closure of both westbound lanes and will reduce traffic to one lane in each direction for months to come. Crews will work on stabilizing the slope and fixing the highway, according to Caltrans.
“It’s going to be a long-term closure,” said Caltrans spokesman Steve Nelson. “The contractor is still figuring out how to fix the road. .. but whatever they come up with, it’s going to take at least a few months.”
The lane closures come after mudslides and other debris forced Caltrans to close Highway 50 for five consecutive days through Feb. 14. Seven mudslides in February created damage to the highway on a 17-mile stretch that included the collapsed road shoulder.
The slope supporting the highway at Bridal Veil Falls, 2 miles east of Fresh Pond, slipped several feet last week, requiring the closure of the westbound No. 2 lane next to the shoulder. The damage increased this week, affecting the No. 1 lane, Caltrans said.
Highway 50 serves as the main route to south Lake Tahoe ski resorts, including Heavenly Mountain Resort and Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Just off Highway 50 near Echo Summit, Sierra-at-Tahoe has long benefited from its convenient location for Sacramento and Bay Area skiers. That changes when Highway 50 closes.
“We go from being one of the best locations for skiing to one of the most difficult to reach,” said resort spokeswoman Thea Hardy, who notes that much of the resort’s business comes from Bay Area and Sacramento skiers visiting for the day. “We’ve definitely seen a dip on days when the highway is closed.”
Farther north, travelers on Tuesday had to deal with blizzard conditions on Interstate 80, which has also seen more than its usual share of weather closures this season. Caltrans closed the freeway earlier this month multiple times due to mudslides near Baxter and held traffic Tuesday because of whiteout conditions and vehicle traction problems.
After years of suffering through shortened ski seasons due to drought, resorts are enjoying record snow this winter, resort officials say. It may be too much of a good thing.
“Ski conditions have been great, when people can get here,” said Jess VanPernis Weaver, a spokeswoman for several Tahoe-area resorts, including Mount Rose and Homewood. “The snow has created some serious challenges.”
Nelson said Caltrans is aware of how important Highway 50 is to South Lake Tahoe businesses, but will always consider safety first and could have to close damaged sections of the highway again.
Caltrans reported just after 2:30 p.m. that Interstate 80 was closed in both directions over Donner Pass and eastbound Highway 20 in Nevada City due to zero visibility. Highway 89 near Tahoe was also closed due to heavy snow. Highway 88 was closed around Carson Pass on Tuesday due to heavy snow. Snow closures on Highway 88 have forced Kirkwood ski resort to close or open late some days this winter.