California highway officials are warning Sierra travelers about a new winter hazard on mountain roadsides.
Families are using highway shoulders, rest areas and highway ramp areas as sledding and snow-play sites, blocking snow plows from doing their jobs and leaving no room for vehicles to pull over for emergencies.
People using rest stops along Interstate 80 in particular as play areas are leaving no room in parking lots for truckers to stop, sleep and refresh, as mandated by federal trucking safety laws. The unauthorized usage also has caused some off-ramp backups at rest areas, Caltrans officials said.
Caltrans issued a warning Monday to travelers, saying illegal parkers could be cited and towed. The state published a photo of cars lining one highway on-ramp at Kingvale, turning the road shoulder into a recreation parking lot.
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“While Caltrans recognizes the beauty of the snow in the Sierra Nevada and welcomes visitors to the area, the agency’s priority is keeping California state highways clear and safe for all motorists,” spokeswoman Raquel Borrayo said in a news statement.
The state operates a handful of SNO-PARKS play areas in the Sierra, charging $5 per day for parking. There is one on I-80 at the Castle Peak exit.
The National Weather Service on Monday reported high winds in the Tahoe region, with gust above 55 mph in mountain passes. That wind is expected to die down, however, by mid-morning on Tuesday, New Year’s Day.
The weather service forecasts clear skies for the next few days in the mountains. That could be followed by snow showers on Saturday and Sunday, weather service officials said.