Highway 50 closed for Echo Summit road work

Highway 50 closure

May 10, 2011 7:49:02 PM PDT
A major artery in the High Sierra will be closed beginning Wednesday. For two weeks, Highway 50 will be off-limits to drivers as Caltrans replaces an old retaining wall. There are detours in place, but it's tough timing for merchants in South Lake Tahoe where a huge bike race gets underway this weekend.

The demolition and replacement of a 72-year-old rock wall has begun at Echo Summit, and with it, weeks of traffic delays for motorists and uncertainty for businesses along the main artery to and from South Lake Tahoe, and points between, like a bike shop in Myers.

"We really don't even know how to prepare for it," says Steve Barney of Watta Bike. "We're just hoping that the reroute through Highway 89 and Highway 88 will get us some people here from Sacramento and San Francisco."

The Highway 50 closure comes just days before the Amgen Tour of California is set to begin at South Lake Tahoe. The first stage of the bike race starts Sunday at Stateline.

Bad timing?

"Yeah, the stars don't align sometimes," says Carol Chaplin with the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. "With road closures and weather, we knew it was coming and we knew it was a project that needed to be completed."

Caltrans wanted to start the work sooner, but the late season snow storms interfered.

"Everyone agreed that they would rather have the full closure for 10 to 14 days than the alternative construction method which is two to three years of one-way traffic control all summer long," says Jody Jones with Caltrans.

The historic wall was built in 1939, and though it's withstood many collisions and an occasional avalanche, its poor condition became a safety hazard. While the work goes on, Caltrans has posted numerous signs along Highway 50 alerting motorists to various detours.

In Placerville, business owners hope whatever route people take, they make a pit stop in their town.

"Placerville's kind of a hub, that way they'll get to know that there's a gold bug mine just one mile up the freeway where they never would've even looked on either side. So we're optimistic," says Placerville tourism director Jody Franklin.

The timing of this closure is a little tricky. It is expected to happen sometime Wednesday, and contractor CC Myers will give Caltrans a three-hour notice. Best advice for motorists -- keep an eye on the signs and be prepared to use the posted detours. The full closure is supposed to last up to two weeks, after that there will be four to six weeks of one-way traffic during the week at Echo Summit, with both lanes open on the weekend.

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