West Shore street, backcountry access hindered by snow removal delays

Crews plow Emerald Bay Road on March 7, 2024. | Caltrans District 3
Crews plow Emerald Bay Road on March 7, 2024. | Caltrans District 3

Residents and businesses owners from Tahoe City to Tahoma have been raising concerns about delays in snow removal along the West Shore corridor of State Route 89 after a relatively large snow cycle in early March left roads and recreational parking turnouts minimally plowed for days.

Alpenglow Sports owner Brendan Madigan, who lives in Homewood, reported that it took multiple days to widen the road beyond two tight lanes, resulting in large ruts, fishtailing cars and two-way gridlocked traffic moving at under 10 m.p.h.

“If someone has to get a fire truck down the West Shore or report to a ski resort accident, we’ve got problems,” he says. “My major concern is public safety. It’s a glaring problem in the community.”

Although the blizzard dropped 6 to 8 feet of snow over several days, Madigan says he’s seen authorities deal with larger storms much more efficiently in the past. If anything, there’s a sinking feeling that things aren’t being taken care of quite as well as they used to be.

“We’re getting the short end of the stick,” he says. “This is impacting our businesses, our economy and the safety of our community. Anyone who’s lived here for a while has seen Caltrans deal with snow mitigation in a better way. It’s obvious that they don’t have enough drivers and equipment. When you’re a taxpayer in the community, how is that justifiable?”

In addition to difficulties commuting to and from the West Shore, the delays made accessing popular backcountry ski runs nearly impossible – and that trickles down to local businesses that rely on recreational tourism to survive the winter.

During the March snow cycle, Caltrans didn’t plow the parking lot along Route 89 that accesses Jake’s Peak for a week after the snow ended, says Tahoe Backcountry Alliance executive director Anthony Cupaiuolo.

“It’s a hard job and it’s a thankless job,” says Cupaiuolo. “We want to see what we can do to bring more resources there. But this was a not a big snow year. To have these sorts of issues on a year like this does not bode well for the future.”

Caltrans District Three public information officer John O’Connell was not aware of the recent concerns until a March 19 phone call with Tahoe Guide.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” O’Connell said. “If roads are totally unsafe, we will close them. But none of the highways in the area were closed [in March]. I wish people would express these concerns to us directly.”

While O’Connell acknowledged it can be difficult to attract snow crew applicants for a dangerous job with long hours far from home, he insisted District Three is not under-resourced.

“We had crews out there 24-7 in 12-hour shifts,” he says. “We do the best with what we’ve got. I know traffic has increased, but I wouldn’t say we’re short-staffed.”

To report concerns or ask questions about road conditions and snow plowing, residents may call the Caltrans public affairs line at (916) 657-5060 or contact District Three directly at (530) 741-4572. | tahoebackcountryalliance.org, dot.ca.gov

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