In the midst of an Nevada Department of Transportation facelift on Geiger Grade, some Virginia City residents are saying the roadway is a victim of bad surgery.
"Basically, they are vandalizing it," said Tom Purkey, a Virginia City resident who has been trying to turn the road into a scenic byway. "When they're done it's going to look like a prison zone."
Purkey referred to cables attached to the rock walls along Geiger Grade in preparation for a "slope scaling" project designed to stop boulders from bouncing into the traffic lanes.
About a half-mile of unstable cliffs along the roadway will be encased in what looks like chain-link fence up to 100 feet high, said Scott Magruder, spokesman for NDOT.
"The slope scaling is being done in areas that are prone to rock sliding," Magruder said. "We're taking loose rock down in some areas, and slopes that have a bad history we have to blast."
Magruder said he has heard a few complaints from people critical of the new project, but the safety benefits outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks.
"We feel we're enhancing safety on a roadway that has a lot of problems," he said.
In addition to slope scaling, the $4 million project includes almost 10 miles of resurfacing and guard rails.
Magruder said the guardrails have been installed, the restraining material will be installed on the rocks over the next two weeks and the final layer of asphalt will be laid next spring when the weather permits.
Purkey, who has been commuting on Geiger Grade for 10 years, said rocks on the roadway are few and far between and don't warrant the NDOT measures.
"Occasional rocks come down once in awhile, but it's nothing more than a minor inconvenience," he said.
He said he applied with the department of transportation five years ago to have Geiger Grade designated as a scenic byway and heard nothing back. Since then he has reapplied, hoping this time it might go through.
"Geiger Grade is one of the most beautiful byways in Nevada if not the United States," he said.
Steve Muniz, executive director of the Virginia City convention and tourism authority, said the group has also been examining the possibility of bringing a scenic corridor through Virginia City.
"We are not going to go willy-nilly trying to file paperwork to stop the chain link fence," he said. "We just want to do what's best for all people involved."
Muniz said one of the possibilities would be to request a corridor management plan in conjunction with the scenic byway designation.
The plan would specify what types of maintenance, changes and adjustments would be allowed on the road.
One of the major considerations is the signs along the road, Muniz said. Newer billboards would not be permitted on the scenic byway, while the historic billboards, which have been around for as long as 40 years, will remain.
Magruder said NDOT will consider changing the color of the restraining material to make it less conspicuous.