Tahoe Cave Rock tunnel construction planned for May

This rendering shows a planned 60-foot expansion of Cave Rock Tunnel along Highway 50. It includes a rock-fall shelter on the north side of the westbound tunnel.

This rendering shows a planned 60-foot expansion of Cave Rock Tunnel along Highway 50. It includes a rock-fall shelter on the north side of the westbound tunnel.

When large boulders fell last February onto U.S. Highway 50 at Cave Rock, it caused damage to the road and tunnel portal. The Nevada Department of Transportation installed steel netting, which is similar to a chain-link fence, to protect the area. It’s not a permanent solution, however.

That’s why Devin Cartwright of NDOT — who presented to South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday, Feb. 16 — said a 60-foot tunnel expansion, including a rock-fall shelter, is planned on the north side of the westbound tunnel. Annual rock scaling, which can be invasive to the natural environment, was not considered an appropriate solution to ameliorate safety concerns due to the Washoe Tribe’s belief Cave Rock is a holy site.

“NDOT wants to respect that,” Cartwright said.

Construction will start as early as May 2 and continue through November. NDOT has offered a $300,000 incentive to its contractor to finish the job early.

“We do want them to get out as soon as possible,” Cartwright explained, as construction in the area is expected to cause traffic congestion.

A 25 mph speed limit through the single-lane construction area will be planned, and work will likely occur Monday through Saturday, with an option to work all night “if it’s a benefit,” Cartwright added.

“I don’t believe the project will impact tourism (meaning impacting the decision to visit), however I do think the project will impact visitor and resident travel time to and from the South Shore,” Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority’s Executive Director Carol Chaplin said by email. “The key is excellent and timely communication. Based upon previous experience with NDOT on other projects, I believe we can partner with them on an effective communication plan that helps us mitigate the disruption as much as possible.”

Cartwright also addressed concerns about scheduled running and cycling events planned in the area, including the AMGEN Tour of California, set for Tahoe’s South Shore May 19.

“There will be no effect to those events hopefully,” he said, adding, “I don’t anticipate problems regarding AMGEN. We’ve incorporated it into the [construction] contract. We will have traffic control set up to accommodate the event.”

Chaplin echoed that sentiment.

“From what I can tell, NDOT was very proactive in researching events that would happen during the Cave Rock project and we’re very comfortable that they are highly sensitive to the importance of the events,” she said.

Other NDOT projects, which will occur simultaneously to the tunnel expansion, include water-quality improvements to keep fine sediments out of the lake, tunnel lighting for bicyclist and pedestrian safety and warning signs telling cars when bicycles or ice are present.

“When you have a project so clearly required for safety, we all just need to work together to get it done with minimal impact,” Chaplin concluded.

For more information, visit www.nevadadot.com.


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